Caitriona McDonagh’s PhD Thesis

MY LIVING THEORY OF LEARNING TO TEACH FOR SOCIAL JUSTICE:
How do I enable primary school children with
specific learning disability (dyslexia)
and myself as their teacher
to realise our learning potentials

CAITRÍONA MCDONAGH

For the award of PhD from the University of Limerick
Thesis Supervisor Professor Jean McNiff
Submitted to the University of Limerick, December 2006

Table of Contents
PART ONE: Introduction – Concerns about my teaching of pupils with specific
learning disAbility (dyslexia)……………………………………………………………………..1
Foreword 1
Chapter One: Introducing my Concerns 10
1.1 Introduction………………………………………………………………………………… 10
1.2 Pupils were being unfairly treated because they have difficulties in
reading……………………………………………………………………………………….. 11
1.3 I had been unfairly treated because I was silenced ………………………….. 14
1.4 My pupils and I had all learned to be helpless, which denied my capacity
to exercise my agency ………………………………………………………………….. 16
1.5 Summary ……………………………………………………………………………………. 17
Chapter Two: Reasons for conducting my research 19
2.1 Introduction……………………………………………………………………………….. 19
2.2 A clash of values exists between policy and the social practices
concerning the education of those with specific learning disability
(dyslexia)……………………………………………………………………………………. 21
2.3 My developing understanding of specific learning disability and the
labelling of pupils as ‘with disability’…………………………………………….. 22
2.4 Initial practical implications of my research for my pupils and me……. 36
2.5 Summary ……………………………………………………………………………………. 42
PART TWO: Core issues of my research………………………………………………………….45
Chapter Three: My Conception of the Nature of Learning for Pupils with Specific
Learning Disability (Dyslexia) 47
3.1 Introduction………………………………………………………………………………… 47
3.2 How learning is conceptualised in my practice: does it value the
individual?………………………………………………………………………………….. 48
3.3 Is the worth of the individual evident in my research context? ………….. 58
3.4 Do people need to be free to develop themselves in accordance with their
worth?………………………………………………………………………………………… 65
3.5 Summary ……………………………………………………………………………………. 69
Chapter Four: Pedagogical issues 70
4.1: Introduction………………………………………………………………………………… 70
4.2 How I taught pupils with specific learning disability (dyslexia) at the
beginning of my research……………………………………………………………… 71
4.3 Systemic constraints that prevent the realisation of my potential and my
pupils’ potential…………………………………………………………………………… 76
4.4 How I proposed to challenge the issues arising in my teaching …………. 85
4.5 Summary ………………………………………………………………………………….. 102
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PART THREE: Methodology – How do I show the situation as it was and as it
developed?……………………………………………………………………………………………..106
Chapter Five: My journey towards understanding using a self-study action
research methodology 108
5.1 Introduction………………………………………………………………………………. 108
5.2 The positioning of research participants within dominant research
methodologies…………………………………………………………………………… 108
5.3 How I am disadvantaged within research methodologies that do not link
embodied values and epistemological values to research methods …… 116
5.4 Showing the realisation of my values as my research methods………… 123
5.5 Summary ………………………………………………………………………………….. 138
Chapter Six: Explanations and justifications for my action research methodology140
6.1 Introduction………………………………………………………………………………. 140
6.2 The structure and processes of my research: showing that I have taken
action to overcome methodological difficulties……………………………… 141
6.3 How I plan to transform the systemic disadvantage of myself and my
pupils into new forms of opportunity……………………………………………. 151
6.4 Summary ………………………………………………………………………………….. 165
PART FOUR: New Learning………………………………………………………………………….168
Chapter Seven: Towards my living theory of learning to teach for social justice
through teaching pupils with specific learning disability (dyslexia) 170
7.1 Introduction………………………………………………………………………………. 170
7.2 Developing strategies to enable pupils to learn effectively by theorising
the transformation of my personal experience of learned helplessness 171
7.3 Developing a more just practice to address the learned helplessness of
pupils with specific learning disability (dyslexia) ………………………….. 177
7.4 Articulating and explaining my emergent living theory of contributive
social justice……………………………………………………………………………… 198
7.5 The living standards by which I judge my findings………………………… 205
7.6 Summary ………………………………………………………………………………….. 209
Chapter Eight: The potential significance of my living theory of learning to teach
for social justice 211
8.1 Introduction………………………………………………………………………………. 211
8.2 Pupils engaged in action research projects alongside mine ……………… 213
8.3 I engage in action research projects alongside the pupils………………… 227
8.4 Summary ………………………………………………………………………………….. 240
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PART FIVE: Ensuring that the conclusions I have come to are reasonably fair
and accurate…………………………………………………………………………………………..242
Chapter Nine: A discussion of my new learning – Testing my living theories 242
9.1 Introduction………………………………………………………………………………. 242
9.2 My systematic validation process………………………………………………… 242
9.3 The importance of our new ways of learning to issues of development as
freedom in education………………………………………………………………….. 249
9.4 Further key learnings from the dissemination of my research………….. 252
9.5 Summary ………………………………………………………………………………….. 256
PART SIX: The broader significance of my study – modifying my practice in
the light of my new learning …………………………………………………………………..258
Chapter Ten: The potential significance of my study 260
10.1 Introduction………………………………………………………………………………. 260
10.2 The potential implications of my research for teaching colleagues…… 260
10.3 The potential implications of my research for new practices in teaching
children with special educational needs (dyslexia)…………………………. 271
10.4 Summary ………………………………………………………………………………….. 275
Chapter Eleven: Reflections 276
11.1 Introduction………………………………………………………………………………. 276
11.2 I am contributing to new forms of theory and my thesis will add to the
existing body of knowledge ………………………………………………………… 278
11.3 My research has potential implications for other fields of practice…… 281
11.4 An ending…………………………………………………………………………………. 289
Bibliography…………………………………………………………………… 291
Appendices……………………………………………………………………..313
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List of Tables
Table 3.1: Extract from an Individual Learning Plan 2001……………………………………..50
Table 3.2: Showing the derivation of the values informing my research ………………….67
Table 4.1: Spellings results………………………………………………………………………………….72
Table 4.2: Word recognition results……………………………………………………………………..72
Table 4.3: Extract from an Individual Learning Plan 2003……………………………………..83
Table 5.1: Showing the derivation of the values informing my research in relation to
my research methods and standards of judgement …………………………125
Table 5.2: Transcript of part of group discussion on artwork ………………………………..132
Table 6.1: Pupil profile ……………………………………………………………………………………..144
Table 6.2: Pupil Record Sheet……………………………………………………………………………145
Table 7.1: Contents of pupils’ reports explaining their learning difficutlties…………..185
Table 7.2: Pupil P’s learning journal 7th January 2002 – 18th January 2002…………….189
Table 7.3: Teacher composed self-esteem and self-perception checklist ………………..189
Table 7.4: My journaling …………………………………………………………………………………..195
Table 7.5: Linking my research practices to Griffiths’s (2003) theory of practical
social justice. …………………………………………………………………………………………..200
Table 8.1: Methods of learning spellings identified by children compared with
learning strategies (originals in data archive see Appendix 2.4a) ………………….213
Table 8.2: Additional methods of learning spellings identified by children compared
with learning strategies (originals in data archive see Appendix 2.4a)…………..214
Table 8.3: Pupil R’s spelling record……………………………………………………………………221
Table 8.4: Triangulated transcript on spellings…………………………………………………….221

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List of Pictures
Picture 3.1 A pupil’s explanation of going to Resource Class…………………………………63
Pictures 4.1 and 4.2: Cookery Class……………………………………………………………………..85
Picture 4.3: Pupil working as teacher……………………………………………………………………86
Picture 5.1: Pupil B’s feelings about his learning difficulties. ……………………………….132
Pictures 6.1 and 6.2: Showing how pupils reflected on specific learning disability
(dyslexia)………………………………………………………………………………………………..146
Pictures 6.3 and 6.4:
……………………………………………………………………………………………..155
Pages from pupils’ reports showing what it was like to find it
hard to read
Picture 7.1: ‘Mood Swings’ by Pupil L (9 years)…………………………………………………187
Picture 7.2: ‘Aloneness’ by Pupil S (9 years)………………………………………………………188
Picture 7.3: ‘School is easier’ by Pupil N (aged 9 years)………………………………………191
Picture 7.5 ‘Before and After’ by Pupil M (aged 12 years) …………………………………..191
Picture 7.6: Showing a pupil’s position when writing………………………………………….196
Picture 7.8: Sharing reports with a mainstream class……………………………………………206
Picture 7.9: Peer critique of reports…………………………………………………………………….206
Picture 7.10: Sharing reports with the wider school community ……………………………206
Picture 7.11: Having new learning valued …………………………………………………………..207
Picture 11.1: Paintings on school corridor…………………………………………………………..284
Table of Figures
Figure 5.1: Research circles……………………………………………………………………………….119
Figure 6.1: Layers of data gathering …………………………………………………………………..143
Figure 6.2: Year One research time-line ……………………………………………………………..149
Figure 6.3: Links and interactions as the pupils and I learned together and as I tested
my claims to new knowledge. …………………………………………………………………..150
Figure 7.1: A model for social justice in education (Griffiths 2003, p.60)………………199
Figure 8.1: Sketches from my reflective journal…………………………………………………..235

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Acknowledgements
It is with the sincerest thanks that I wish to acknowledge the following
o My supervisor Professor Jean McNiff for her expert guidance and
encouragement
o My PhD colleagues in particular Bernie Sullivan, Máirín Glenn and Mary
Roche for their generosity and educative influence
o Members of the Department of Education and Professional Studies for their
contributions to my PhD programme of studies
o The pupils, parents, colleagues and management of my school for their help
in improving my practice
o And especially my husband Paddy and my family for their constant love and
support

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Abstract
My living theory of learning to teach for social justice: How do I enable
primary school children with specific learning disability (dyslexia) and myself
as their teacher to realise our learning potentials
Caitríona McDonagh
This thesis is a narrative account of how I have improved my teaching of pupils with
specific learning disability (dyslexia), as a resource teacher in a primary school,
thereby generating my living theory of learning to teach for social justice, within a
context of normative theories and practices, which prevent the realisation of my
pupils’ and my own learning potential.
I link my research commitment to my Christian values of justice, freedom, equality,
an ethic of change for a better social order, and the recognition of the uniqueness of
the individual. These embodied values inform my life and work, and have become
the living standards by which I judge the quality of my research.
I explain my self-study action research methodology as a living transformational
process. My findings about my pupils’ and my own learning offer new
conceptualisations about the capacity of pupils to learn in their own ways, and about
reconceptualising metacognition against normative theories in contemporary
literatures. I have deepened my understanding of learning and knowledge creation
processes through dialogical interactions, and developed new understandings about
forms of theory and logic, and the relevance of living theory to changing practice.
I am claiming that the significance of my research is grounded in my capacity to
show how I can enable children with specific learning disability (dyslexia) to learn
through person-centred pedagogies. This has potential implications for new forms of
practice and theory in teaching children with special educational needs. A distinctive
feature of my account is my explanation for how my Christian values have
transformed into my critical epistemological standards of judgement, and the
development of a living theory of practice that enables me to account for my
educational influence in my pupils’ and my own learning.
viii

PART ONE: INTRODUCTION – CONCERNS ABOUT MY TEACHING OF
PUPILS WITH SPECIFIC LEARNING DISABILITY (DYSLEXIA)
Foreword
I am a teacher and a researcher, and this thesis is my explanation for how I have
generated my own living educational theory of learning to teach for social justice. I
make this claim on two counts.
First I can show how I have enabled children with specific learning disability
(dyslexia), who were previously marginalised, to celebrate their value and come to
see that they have a contribution to make in the public domain. ‘Specific learning
disability’ (dyslexia) is a term used to categorise some children who have difficulties
learning the ‘three Rs’ – reading, writing and arithmetic. In the words of the
Department of Education and Science, these children are described as:
• being of average intelligence or higher
• having a degree of learning disability specific to basic skills in
reading, writing or mathematics which places them at or below
the second percentile on suitable, standardised, norm
referenced tests.
(Ireland, Department of Education and Science 2002a, p.6)
The second count on which I claim to have generated a living theory of learning to
teach for social justice is that I have also achieved justice for myself, in that I have
found my voice through pursuing my research into my teaching practices. My
research began with my questioning of the policy that labels some pupils as
‘disabled learners’ (Ireland, Department of Education and Science 1999a, p.2;
2002a, p.6), so that they can access additional tuition within the primary school
system. This concern developed into further questioning of the literature, theory
and research in the field. By challenging current thinking I took a first step in a
larger transformational process of my thinking and practice.
1
This thesis is about how I transformed that personal thinking and practice, as I began
to develop my own new living theories about my practice. In order to see if I am
justified in the claims I am making I have invited on-going critique of my work.
Critique has become an integral and on-going part of my professional life.
Consequently, I have come to realise that my practice is not static, and my
reflections on it will not end when this programme of studies is completed.
The developmental nature of my research began when I asked, in my masters studies
(McDonagh 2000), ‘How can I improve my teaching of pupils with specific learning
disability in the area of language?’ Having gained accreditation and a degree of
confidence in my professional abilities, I came to my present research programme
out of a sense of injustice on behalf of my pupils and myself. I was concerned that
pupils who were labelled as having specific learning disability (dyslexia) were not
being treated fairly. I was also concerned that I was not being treated fairly because,
as a practising teacher, I had been denied a voice in policy debates. Linked to this
were my own feelings of inadequacy. Within my own practice, I felt unable, as a
teacher, to prevent certain pupils from failure, particularly in the areas of reading and
spellings. I also felt unable to facilitate my pupils to achieve within their own terms,
by which I mean to learn using their own learning strategies, abilities and strengths.
The three short quotations below, taken from school diaries that I wrote during 1996
–1997, give a flavour of the difficulties that some of my pupils experienced, which
gave rise to my frustrations as a class teacher at that time. The three pupils I wrote
about below were in a class of 38 pupils, aged 10 years, and all three pupils
functioned at what is deemed to be age-appropriate levels in reading and
mathematics, yet had significant difficulties with written language.
Pupil M* works so hard. She reads well. But why can’t she write? She
can’t even copy words accurately from the board into a copy on her
desk. She leaves out and reverses letters and words. She can spell the
same word in three different ways in the one paragraph.
(19 Nov 1996, reflective journal in data archive, Appendix 2.1a)
2
Pupil C* can’t even write one word from his textbook into his copy
correctly. Only he can read what he writes. But he has great ideas. He
is a good problem solver; inquisitive. How can he be so clever in all
these ways and useless at writing?
(12 Feb 1997, reflective journal in data archive, Appendix 2.1a)
Pupil P* never has the right book open at the right time. He is always
pretending to be looking for a book – is his disorganisation an
avoidance tactic?
(23 Mar 1997, reflective journal in data archive, Appendix 2.1a)
(*The pupils are identified by initials in order to ensure anonymity for ethical
reasons (see Appendix 1) which I will discuss in Part Three.)
In this thesis I explain how I overcame my own learned helplessness as a teacher
of pupils with specific learning disability (dyslexia). Thereby, I have also enabled
the children with specific learning disability (dyslexia) whom I teach to do the
same by overcoming their learned helplessness. I took action to transform what I
perceived at that time as failing situations into successful learning experiences, by
engaging in action research. I understand successful learning situations in terms of
my own values as I relate them to my work in a primary school as a resource
teacher, who is supporting the special educational needs of pupils. The practicebased
values that I came to articulate during my research were to do with, first,
enabling children to exercise their own ways of learning; second, having those
ways of learning valued by themselves and others; and third, having the pupils’
capabilities recognised by themselves and others within their school community.
My living theory of learning to teach for social justice is grounded in this practice.
Within this form of theorising I am constantly asking, as Whitehead (1989, p.45)
does, ‘How do I live my values more fully in my practice?’ So it is a living form of
theory rather than a propositional form of theory that exists only at an abstract
level, because the term ‘living educational theory’ incorporates describing,
explaining and theorising the changes that I am making in my teaching as a living
transformational process.
The ideals of valuing the individual and the learner have informed both my career
path in teaching and my interest in research as a form of professional development.
3
These principles stem from values of justice, freedom of choice, the ethic of change
for a better social order and the recognition of the uniqueness of the individual. I
believe that all humans have the capacity to learn, regardless of their social or
academic positioning, as I have written and spoken about in McDonagh (2004a and
2004b). I was concerned that the value of fairness as a form of justice (Rawls 2001)
was denied daily in my classroom when pupils, with average intelligence, failed to
master key literacy skills because of the ways in which I was teaching them
(McDonagh 2000). My classroom practice fell short of my ideals, and I came to
understand how pupils with specific learning disability (dyslexia) were further
denied justice by the dominant pedagogies in many classrooms. This understanding
is supported by a Government Task Force on Dyslexia, which reports that some
class teachers are
not sufficiently familiar with dyslexia to identify students who may be
at risk of developing difficulties, and therefore may not be in a position
to provide appropriate support or seek additional help.
(Ireland, Department of Education and Science 2002b, p.36)
It was clear to me that children’s rights were being denied in my practice and also in
other classrooms according to the Task Force report above. Justice was not being
done, in that appropriate education was not being provided for pupils with specific
learning disability (dyslexia). Schools appeared to be failing in their duty, which,
according to Section 9 of The Education Act (Government of Ireland 1998), is to
provide education to students which is appropriate to their abilities and
needs and, without prejudice to the generality of the foregoing, it shall,
as far as resources permit (a) ensure that the educational needs of all
students, including those with special educational needs, are identified
and provided for.
(Government of Ireland 1998, p.13)
This apparent denial of appropriate teaching for pupils with specific learning
requirements raised issues of social justice, which I considered might begin to be
redressed by critically reviewing my understanding of the practice of a resource or
special educational needs teacher, namely myself.
4
By claiming that my living theory of learning to teach for social justice is grounded
in my practice, I mean that it is about helping pupils with specific learning
disability (dyslexia) to find ways of negotiating their way so that they are not
disabled by their contexts, or their inability to make sense of words. This includes
helping them find their own ways of learning spellings and producing intelligible
writing. I am therefore claiming that my living theory of learning to teach for
social justice is grounded in my deepening understandings about individual and
unique ways of learning.
This thesis describes how I did this in research cycles of action and reflection
during my teaching of three separate groups of eight pupils – one group per year –
over the course of three years, 2001–2004. I collected a large amount of data over
those years. The data is in my data archive and is listed in Appendix 2, while
Appendix 1 contains my ethical statement and samples of the permissions I
received to carry out this research. The Department of Education and Science had
granted those pupils who participated in my research resource-teaching hours
under the criteria of Circulars 09/99 and 08/02 (Ireland, Department of Education
and Science 1999a and Ireland, Department of Education and Science 2002a). The
boys and girls in the groups were aged between 8 and 12 years and were in
mainstream classes at 3rd to 6th class levels. The numbers and gender-balance of the
pupils in my research reflect national statistics for specific learning disability
within primary schools. The eight pupils, whom I engaged with during each year
of my research, represented 2% of my school’s population. This concurs with the
report of the Special Education Review Committee (Ireland, Department of
Education 1993, p. 88), which estimates that 1–4% of the general population
experiences a severe level of specific learning disability (dyslexia). Of the twentyfour
pupils who participated in my research, eighteen were boys and six were girls.
This gender ratio of 3:1 is consistent with the findings of the Special Education
Review Committee (Ireland, Department of Education 1993, p.88) and the
Government Task Force on Dyslexia (Ireland, Department of Education and
Science 2002b).
I experienced many key learning episodes that contributed to the main claims that I
am making in my research. In writing about them, I have conceptualised and
5
organised my ideas by means of a metaphor of waves of expanding influence. The
metaphor is drawn from the novels of Coelho (1992 and 1997). These waves are
transformational, and have gathered momentum as I have worked my way through
the research. I see myself as a person standing in the sea of life, water up to my
waist, waves and currents tugging me away from and towards the shore. The first
large wave is my commitment to my work. The second wave that crashes against
me and tugs at me is the pervasive contradiction of the experience of living every
day in the society in which I live. This society, although founded on aspirations of
freedom and democracy, continues to reproduce forms of dominance and injustice
that contribute to the marginalisation of people. The third wave that buffets me
challenges the practical significance of the theoretical base of my work, by which I
mean that my work as a resource teacher is influenced by traditional theories of
teaching, learning and disability, whose relevance I question. I find that these
theories are of limited practical use, so I seek a form of theory generated from my
living practice that also has the potential to contribute to a knowledge base for
teachers (Zeichner 1999). The fourth wave has the rising white foam and troughs
of the successes and failures of my teaching. It also represents my attempts at
helping other people, such as pupils and colleagues, to address how possibilities
may be expanded in our lives and in the communities in which we live.
I use these four waves of influence to frame the first four chapters of this thesis in
which I introduce the conceptual frameworks of my study. I identify these as
identity, justice, teaching and knowledge. At the moment I remain with abstract
conceptualisations, for the purposes of analysis, in which I present the metaphor of
waves as static entities. I proceed later to explain that the waves are dynamic, and so
the metaphor of waves itself becomes dynamic. These frameworks are not discrete
areas, but, to continue the metaphor above, they are intermingled in the living water
of life. During the course of the research reported here, the four waves combine to
gather sufficient momentum to generate a fifth wave which I describe in Parts Four,
Five and Six, that has the power to incorporate and transform the first four waves.
~ The organisation of this thesis
My thesis takes the form of an action enquiry, in which the underpinning question is,
‘How do I improve my practice?’ (Whitehead 1989). I tell the story of my research
6
in a dialogical form, by posing critical questions for myself and by addressing them
through the form of my text. In Part One I ask ‘What was my concern?’ I address my
question with an explanation of why I engaged with this research. The first chapter
in Part One opens up the substantive issues that encouraged me to take action. These
issues are around injustice, and how the pupils whom I teach are unfairly treated
because they are labelled in terms of their difficulties, mainly in reading and
spellings. I also feel unfairly treated in that my voice is silenced. I am concerned that
both the pupils and I have learned to be helpless, which denies our capacity for
agency. In Chapter Two I consider the background to my research, in particular the
clash between my values in relation to teaching and social justice, and existing social
practices around teaching pupils with specific learning disability (dyslexia). This
chapter sets out the conceptual basis of my research. I explain that I want to get to a
point where my pupils and I can celebrate our humanity together and be seen by
ourselves and others as valuable people. For my pupils, this means learning how to
negotiate their difficulties with spellings. For me, it means finding the best ways to
help them.

In Part Two I examine the question, ‘What are the core issues that concerned me and
why did they concern me?’ I am troubled because I believe that the pupils and I are
valuable humans. I believe in the worth of the individual and I believe that people
need to be free to develop themselves in terms of that worth (see Sen 1999). I am
concerned that current systemic constraints prevent the realisation of my potential
and the potential of the pupils I teach. I examine the contexts of my research, which
include current normative theories and practices around teaching and learning for
pupils with specific learning disability (dyslexia). In Chapters Three and Four, I
tease out the philosophical frameworks of my research, and I show how I have
developed insights that will enable me to generate my own living form of theory
(Whitehead 1989).
Part Three deals with issues around methodology as I pose the question, ‘How can I
show the situation as it was, and as it developed?’ My developing understandings
around the forms of theory, logic and practice in which my research is based in turn
inform my research methodology. I discuss my research methodology over two
chapters. Chapter Five deals with my journey towards understanding using a self-
7
study action research methodology. Chapter Six explains the processes that I
engaged in to develop educational and practical theory from within my practice of
teaching pupils with specific learning disability (dyslexia).

Part Four explains how I theorised my practice by addressing the question, ‘What
did I do?’ and ‘What was the importance of my actions?’ Chapters Seven and Eight
contain data from research episodes, which are analysed and critiqued against the
literature. My findings contain descriptions and discussions of my learning and that
of my children. In this way I show how my findings offer new insights and strategies
when placed against the criteria and standards of judgement that informed my
research, and also against current normative theories from existing literatures.
Chapter Seven contains my claim to have developed a practical living theory of
learning to teach for social justice in relation to pupils with specific learning
disability (dyslexia). Chapter Eight outlines how I developed new understandings
about the nature of the capacity and individuality of those pupils, and how I refined
and deepened my ideas about metacognition.
In Part Five I tell how I continuously checked, ‘How can I ensure that any
conclusions I come to are reasonably fair and accurate?’ throughout my research
process. This required my explanation of the grounds of my claims. First I have
grounded my commitment to relationships of equality within my ontological and
Christian values. I link the idea of the value of the person with the idea that people
must be free to realise and exercise their value. So I claim to have developed a just
practice in terms of human equality. Second, I have developed a critique of my own
stance in relation to my pedagogies, as well as in relation to dominant practices of
teaching children with specific learning disability (dyslexia). Third, I have come to
understand that personal and social practices are informed and underpinned by
specific ontological and epistemological values.
In Part Six I ask myself, ‘How did I modify my practice in the light of my new
learning?’ I explore the significance of my research and its implications for other
colleagues’ learning, and for new practices in teaching children with special
educational needs. I reflect on how my new insights have significance for me, for the
pupils who participated in my research and for teaching colleagues. I claim that I
8
have developed an epistemology that explains how personal learning can occur
through reciprocal interactions and I claim that I have deepened my understanding of
how learning and knowledge creation can take place through dialogical interactions.
The thesis ends by explaining that my claim to have generated my living theory of
learning to teach for social justice is not the end of my research but a beginning of
new possibilities.
9
CHAPTER ONE: Introducing my Concerns
1.1 Introduction
In the first year of my research programme (September 2001) I wrote in my journal,
Another year begins. I have been allocated eight pupils because they have
specific learning disability (dyslexia). I feel good about this. I know that by
the end of their time with me these pupils will be able to blend sounds that
will help them with spellings and decoding new words. I also know that
with my help, these pupils will have shortened the gap between their
reading ability ages and their chronological ages. I know that I will have
taught them visual strategies to help them read texts by scanning for word
shapes and commonly occurring strings of letters. Yet I am not content
with these improvements. I am unhappy because I teach by rote, making
pupils practise skills over and over again each day, each week, each month.
The time the pupils spend with me cannot be enjoyable for them either. But
the rest of their time in school with their mainstream class must be even
less enjoyable because the pupils are doing so poorly and they must
experience a sense of despondency. I am also unhappy about the fact that I
am teaching all my pupils with specific learning disability (dyslexia) in the
same way. I think that some of them are able to learn quicker and easier
than others. But in order to get through teaching the skills, I don’t have
time to check out what pupils can do on an individual basis.
(5 Sept 2001, reflective journal in data archive, Appendix 2.1.b)
I have written this thesis as an action research report in which I ask myself
problematic questions about my practice. In this chapter, and following McNiff and
Whitehead (2005, p.39), I ask,
What is my concern?
Why am I concerned?
How do I show the reality of the current situation?
What could I do about it?
10
My responses include the following. I am concerned that pupils are being unfairly
treated under existing provision because they have difficulties in reading, possibly
by the system in mainstream classrooms and by my teaching of programmes that are
recommended for pupils with specific learning disability (dyslexia). I show that the
reason for my concern is that my pupils have been silenced. I am also concerned that
I have been unfairly treated and silenced because of the reality of working in a
system of education that prioritises objective knowledge at the expense of
individuals’, including my children’s, personal ways of knowing. Finally I describe
the action that I decided to take to improve my learning about how to improve the
situation.
1.2 Pupils were being unfairly treated because they have difficulties in
reading
When my eight pupils were granted resource teaching, I withdrew them from their
mainstream classes for a half-hour daily, as was common practice. According to the
Minister for Education (Dáil Question 806 9978/05, 2005), the Government has
dramatically increased the number of resource teachers in primary schools since
1997 and, since April 2005, nearly 2,500 resource teachers have been employed to
provide additional resources for children assessed with special needs. These fulltime
resource teachers, including me, are required to take responsibility for
providing individualised tuition to address the needs of these specifically assessed
children. This provision includes the practice of withdrawing children from
mainstream classes daily for thirty to forty minutes (Nugent 2006, p.102). I became
concerned about this practice of withdrawing children with specific learning
disability on the grounds that it could lead to their marginalisation.

I had three initial concerns:
(i) Is the label of ‘specific learning disability’ accurate?
(ii) Are normative teaching practices in mainstream classrooms contributing
to the disabling of pupils who are labelled as having specific learning
disability?
(iii) Dominant pedagogies for pupils with specific learning disability
(dyslexia) generally engage with behaviouristic teaching approaches. My
11
view is that pupils with specific learning disability (dyslexia) need
differentiated personalised teaching approaches.
I address these concerns in turn and in relation to my thinking about my teaching at
the beginning of my research.
~ I am concerned about the form of words ‘specific learning disability’
(dyslexia)
In McDonagh (1999a, 1999b and 2000) I explained my developing professional
understanding about the field of specific learning disability, which led me to query
the accuracy of the form of words ‘specific learning disability’. I am referring here to
the fact that the terms ‘specific learning difficulty’ and ‘specific learning disability’
both appear in the literatures on reading difficulties, and in policy statements used by
education systems in Ireland, the United Kingdom and the United States of America.
I prefer the term ‘difficulty’ to ‘disability’. My concern is that in Ireland we are
marginalising children by labelling them as having a specific learning disability
when they may have learning difficulties rather than a disability. In the United States
of America and Ireland, for example, the term ‘specific learning disability’ is widely
used. In the United States of America that term is enshrined in the Individuals with
Disabilities Act of America (United States of America, Amendment of 1997, s 602
[26], p.13), and in Ireland since 1975 the Department of Education has ‘put in place
a range of supports for children with specific learning disabilities (including
dyslexia)’, according to the Task Force on Dyslexia (Ireland, Department of
Education and Science 2002b, p.3). By contrast, in Britain’s Code of Practice
(Britain, Department of Education and Employment 1994) and in Northern Ireland’s
Code of Practice (Northern Ireland, Department of Education, Education Order
1996, p.71), the term ‘specific learning difficulty’ is preferred. Both terms include
dyslexia (Ireland, Department of Education and Science 2002b, p.26).
~ I am concerned that normative teaching practices in mainstream classes may
be contributing to the disabling of pupils who are labelled as having specific
learning disability (dyslexia)
In querying whether the system in mainstream classrooms is a disabling factor for
those children with specific learning disability, I am supported by a recent report of a
12
government Task Force on Dyslexia (Ireland, Department of Education and Science
2002b). This report proposes changes in school practices and calls for a wholeschool,
multidisciplinary approach to catering for all those with dyslexia across all
levels. This recommendation means that the Task Force recognises problematics in
current teaching practices of those with specific learning disability (dyslexia). So
what is the relationship between current provision and my workplace? The reality of
my working life was exemplified in the work and conversation of the children with
whom I researched. An eleven year old pupil of mine wrote, ‘Tunk you fro youre
hepl’ on a thank you card (archive item 20 June 2001, see Appendix 2.2a). Many
teachers would focus on her errors in spelling – which are often a feature of specific
learning disability – but the meaning and sentiment of her note inspired me to
concentrate, through my own passion for compassion (Naidoo 2005), on the child’s
abilities rather than her difficulties. Naidoo (2005), who works within a nursing
context, uses the term ‘a passion for compassion’ when she describes the emergence
of her living theory of inclusional and responsive practice. This thesis tells how I
responded to situations in my practice out of compassion for the pupils I taught. The
research documented here shows how the young person who wrote the thank you
note, and other children with specific learning disability who participated in this
research, were enabled to move towards an awareness of their capacities for
independent thinking and learning.
~ I teach by rote, making pupils practise skills over and over again each day,
each week, each month
At the beginning of my research, I was using teaching programmes that were
recommended for my pupils by educational psychologists. This was because a report
from an educational psychologist on a pupil, necessary in order to access resource
teaching for specific learning disability (dyslexia), is sent to the Department of
Education and Science. When I was allocated a pupil who was designated by the
Department of Education and Science with specific learning disability (dyslexia),
first I looked at the psychologist’s recommended programmes or strategies, if any
had been offered. Many of the programmes recommended by psychologists require a
behaviourist style of teaching and learning that focuses on stimulus and response and
an emphasis on repetitive practice of new learning. This learning style includes overlearning,
which involves intense practice of newly learned information until it is
13
thoroughly learned (Slavin 2003, p.194); and rote learning, which requires the
memorisation of facts or associations that might be essentially arbitrary (Slavin
2003, p.199). In this style of teaching, learning is explained in terms of observable
behaviour. Less visible processes of learning are ignored, such as ‘concept
formation, learning from text, problem solving and thinking’ (Slavin 2003, p.163).
Yet, from observing pupils with specific learning disability in my classes over many
years I query over-learning and rote learning as the most appropriate forms of
learning for pupils with specific learning disability. Therefore, in my research, I am
pitting my experiential knowledge as a teacher against dominant theories of teaching
and learning.
1.3 I had been unfairly treated because I was silenced
My voice of experience is silenced within the education system in which I work
because the system is steeped in an epistemological tradition that prioritises abstract
objective knowledge over personal experiential knowledge. I believe that this system
is unfair to me, as a teacher, for the following reasons.
The planning and evaluation policies currently dominant in primary schools are
practical examples of the epistemological stance of a normative education system.
This stance can be gauged by considering how improvements in learning are
measured and how teachers generally plan and evaluate their work (Reflective
Journal 2001-2002 see Appendix 2.1b). Rule 126 of the Primary School (Ireland,
Department of Education and Science 2005b) requires teachers to prepare
‘scéimeanna seachtaine nó coicíse’ (weekly or fortnightly short term plans), which
comprise plans of proposed aims, work and inter-subject linkages (comhtháthú) for
each class level and for each subject area of the curriculum. Targets attained are
recorded in a ‘Cuntas Míosúil’ (monthly report) that is retained by the school
principal and may be removed for scrutiny by members of the Department of
Education and Science Inspectorate during whole school evaluations. In my practice
I have continually found major discrepancies between the targets I planned and
externally assessable learning attainments. By externally assessable learning
attainments I mean those outcomes that could be demonstrated to the satisfaction of
a Department of Education inspector should s/he wish to assess my teaching during a
14
whole school evaluation, in accordance with the Education Act (Government of
Ireland 1998, s.13. 3a 111 p.16).
The linking of the transmission and evaluation of knowledge to the effectiveness of
one’s teaching raises core issues for my research. For example, if I stated in my
monthly report that a child knew x, and subsequently that child cannot demonstrate
knowledge of x, the following questions could be raised: did I, as the teacher, teach x
as claimed? Did I teach x inadequately? Was x taught but the pupil no longer
recalled x? Was the method used to assess x appropriate? These questions
demonstrate the need to establish acceptable criteria for the evaluation of learning. In
citing the scenario above, I am making the point that learning tends to be assessed by
those outside the learning process. These outsiders are positioned as experts and tend
to use normative criteria and standards of judgements. These criteria and norms
usually appear in traditional quantitative forms of assessing learning such as
standardised tests for English reading vocabulary and comprehension; examples of
those used in my context are the Drumcondra Primary Reading Tests (Education
Research Centre 1994), the Mary Immaculate College Reading Attainment Test
(Wall and Burke 1988) and the Non-Reading Intelligence Test (Young 2004).
The outside expert’s evaluation is valued above those directly engaged in the
learning process, as in the case of the protocols for assessing if a pupil has a specific
learning disability. The Department of Education and Science, for example, requires
an educational psychologist to administer IQ and standardised tests for the purposes
of labelling a pupil as having a specific learning disability so that the pupil be
granted extra tuition provision. This requirement of external assessors is in contrast
to the Department of Education and Science’s own guidelines in curriculum
documents, which state that testing is an integral part of teaching (Ireland,
Department of Education and Science 1999b). In my opinion this requirement could
appear to imply that the state body governing education views teacher judgement as
suspect because teacher judgement is excluded from the assessment process.
In addition to planning and evaluation issues, policy decisions also impinge on how I
teach pupils with specific learning disability (dyslexia) and on how they learn. When
practice is seen as the implementation of agreed policy and curricula rather than
15
being pupil-focussed, resource teaching can be influenced in the following ways.
The voice of the learner and resource teacher can go unheard and resource teaching
can focus on systemic functions of enabling fuller participation in the mainstream
class curriculum rather than enabling pupils with specific learning disability to
exploit their capacities for thinking and learning. Since the Education Act 1998
(Government of Ireland 1998, s. 16d p. 20 and s. 21 p. 22), schools are required to
have policies and conduct planning as guidelines of practice in all aspects of
education, including learning disabilities. Although policies are intended to be
locally agreed and are formulated by the partners in education – parents, teachers,
school patrons and local community representatives – they do not seem to have had
the expected democratising effect on the learning of pupils. This appears to be the
case because policy-driven planning and teaching has swamped many schools in
Ireland (Nugent, Mary 2002 p. 99; Nic Craith 2003) since the 1998 Education Act
was passed. In practice this means that I, like many other teachers, engage with
what, how and where teaching happens rather than focusing on the learning of
pupils, which represents for me a denial of my values of social justice in that an
active exploration of how pupils can be involved in their own learning is
systematically discouraged. There is evidence of the detrimental effect of an
overload of paper work on schools in the recently published whole school evaluation
reports (Ireland, Department of Education and Science 2006), where schools are now
recommended to match learning tasks to pupils’ needs and abilities, in an
instrumental correlational way.
1.4 My pupils and I had all learned to be helpless, which denied my
capacity to exercise my agency
I also question the wisdom of minimising – to the extent of ignoring – the
knowledge gained by those in closest and most extensive contact with pupils with
specific learning disability (dyslexia). Those with the most extensive contact with
such pupils are their class teachers, learning support teachers, the school community
and the pupils’ parents. Yet, the Department of Education and Science (Ireland,
Department of Education and Science 1999a and 2002a) bases the entitlement of 2.5
hours of weekly resource teaching on an educational psychologist’s report. I believe
16
that this form of outsider evaluation is inadequate to appreciate the wide range of
needs and abilities of individuals with specific learning disability (dyslexia).
In doing this research I aimed to develop different kinds of criteria and different
forms of standards of judgement that approach the valuation of teaching and learning
from a perspective which is different from traditional ways. I seek to develop criteria
that demonstrate change in educational practice and in learning. It is pleasing to note
however that the forms of assessment, recommended within the Primary School
curriculum (Ireland, Department of Education and Science, 1999b), have already
gone some way towards this stance. It advises that pupil portfolio work, where
pupils select and retain samples of their best efforts, be added to ongoing, cumulative
and summative teacher assessment. Therefore, a methodological shift has begun that
moves the centre of power from the outsider – for example, me as the teacher, as an
expert who assesses learning – to the learner, who is encouraged to exercise their
own voice in the process of their own assessment. My research is grounded in the
idea that learners should be so involved, and therefore contributes towards the
legitimation of a shift in the epistemological base of educational practice that values
personal knowledge as much as objective knowledge.

1.5 Summary
Because I had been thinking deeply about these issues, I decided to take action to see
if I could improve the situation. My pupils and I had all learned to be helpless, which
denied my capacity to exercise my agency. Now, by asking, ‘How do I improve my
practice?’ (Whitehead 1989), I was beginning to take action. My reasons for
undertaking this research became crystallised as I developed greater clarity around
linkages between teaching and how knowledge is viewed. In my research I began to
question the strong emphasis on objective knowledge and assessment in current
teaching approaches. In this thesis I explain how I support my challenges with
evidence generated through ‘rigorous enquiry and validated research’ (Hitchcock
and Hughes 1995, p.5).
In this chapter I have outlined my concerns about the marginalisation and silencing
of my pupils and myself. I have come to articulate these concerns because of my
17
commitment to my work. This commitment acts as the first wave of influence on my
research.
In the chapter that follows, I articulate the beliefs I hold that influenced my
concerns. I then go on to explain how I interrogated the approaches that I used in
my teaching prior to my research programme. I did so in order to understand how I
could improve my teaching and possibly improve the learning experiences of all
pupils with specific learning disability. In my role as a researcher, I analyse the
background to my work in the light of current literature on three fronts: first on
practical issues of specific learning disability, whole school planning and
pedagogy; second on social research about inclusion and marginalisation; and third
on the fields of policy, provision and research into specific learning disability.
18
CHAPTER TWO: Reasons for conducting my research
2.1 Introduction
In this chapter, and following the action research methodology I have adopted for
writing this thesis, I offer reasons for my concerns. I set out the background to my
research and the substantive concepts that informed the formulation of my research
question, ‘How do I improve my teaching of pupils with specific learning disability
who are within my care as a resource teacher in a primary school?’
I want to begin by describing my reactions when I received reports on pupils with
specific learning disability (dyslexia) from educational psychologists in the early
stages of my research. On one such occasion, I wrote in my reflective journal (2001):
A psychological report arrived today. Great excitement! Does it entitle our
school to extra teaching hours? Will the hours help us maintain current
staff? Will we be employing an extra part-time teacher? Quick! Check the
IQ scores. Are they in the average range? Yes. Check the reading, spelling
and comprehension scores; are any of them below the second percentile?
Yes. Yippee. Now, do I see the words ‘this pupil has specific learning
disability’? These words must be in the report, in addition to the
appropriate scores if resource teaching is to be provided? Double Yippee!
They are all there.
Next I turn to the psychologist’s recommendations on the last pages of the
report. Good it names strategies and commercial programmes such as
Alpha to Omega (Hornsby et al. 1999) and Phonological Awareness
Training (Wilson 1996), Wordshark and the Multisensory Teaching System
of Reading (Johnson et al. 1999). I will definitely teach these programmes.
Now I look at the IQ scores. A full scale IQ is given and it is broken down
into a verbal IQ and a performance IQ. The pupil has a significant
difference of 23 points higher in verbal than in performance IQ scores. This
discrepancy is very useful. It tells me that this pupil will learn better when
new information is presented orally rather than in written form only. When
I am explaining the report to the child’s parents, I can emphasise that the
pupil has strengths above his average scores in verbal areas. I will also
point out that this difference will be very helpful for him in career choices
later in his life. His lower scores in performance IQ explain why he is
having so many difficulties in school where most of the work is written.
(29 Sept 2001, reflective journal in data archive, Appendix 2.1b)
19
My reaction to the psychological report focuses on existing policy, in relation to
what I teach, on how I understand specific learning disability (dyslexia) and on how
I explain it to parents of pupils. I have omitted to say what I tell the pupil about
whom the report was written and who has spent time doing tests for the
psychologist. This is because I did not tell the pupil anything about the results of the
tests. In my experience educational psychologists also do not inform primary school
pupils of the results of their assessments on them. In the previous chapter, I have
spoken about how I value each individual, yet in practice I have denied this, as
demonstrated by my responses to the report. This is an example of how I was
denying my values in my practice (Whitehead 1989).
In this chapter, I set out my educational and social values and how I saw these values
systematically denied in my practice as a resource teacher. These ideas about the
contradictions between societal values and my own educational values were new
understandings for me and, in making them explicit, I came to recognise that my
professional values were rooted in ideas to do with justice and forms of knowledge.
Discrepancies between social values in the teaching of pupils with specific learning
disability (dyslexia) and the practical experiences of my workplace correspond to the
second of the four waves of influence on my research. In Chapter One I have
described this second wave as the pervasive contradiction of living every day in the
society in which I live. This society, although founded on aspirations of freedom and
democracy, continues to reproduce forms of dominance and injustice that contribute
to the marginalisation of people.
I analyse the discrepancy and the clash of values in my practice under three
headings.
o How policy influences my practice
o I show mistaken understandings of dyslexia in my practice
o I say that children should have a voice in offering their own explanations of
how they live their lives and how this is obvious in my practice.

20
2.2 A clash of values exists between policy and the social practices
concerning the education of those with specific learning disability
(dyslexia)
Policy for the teaching of pupils with specific learning disability (dyslexia) is
currently dictated both nationally and at a local level by the Education Act
(Government of Ireland 1998, s. 9 p.13 and s. 13. 3a 111 p.16), the Education of
Persons with Special Education Needs Act (Government of Ireland 2004a), the
Equal Status Act (Government of Ireland 2004b), the Disability Act (Government of
Ireland 2005), Department of Education and Science Circulars (Ireland, Department
of Education and Science1999a, 1999b, 2002a) and my school’s entrance and
learning support policies. Consequently, policy in my context is influenced both by
the discourses of disability and by the persistent practice of labelling pupils as
having disabilities in order to access additional support. As well as the dissonance
that I have described above, between my values and what was happening in my
work, I was further frustrated by the labelling of certain children as disabled in order
to access extra teaching provision within the primary school system. The aim of my
research was to get to a point where the pupils and I could celebrate our humanity
together, and still receive support, as I now explain.
When I asked, ‘Does it entitle our school to extra teaching hours?’, I was saying that
a diagnosis of specific learning disability focused my attention first on provision of
additional teaching hours. A diagnosis of specific learning disability can focus
parents’ attention, as well as the attention of many educational professionals, who
support pupils who have this label, on the word ‘disability’. When this happens, the
second criterion by which the Department of Education and Science categorises
pupils as having a specific learning disability seems to be forgotten. This criterion is
that the pupils have average intelligence. In addition, the form of academic testing
used to adjudicate on the remaining criteria for specific learning disability (dyslexia),
ignores the pupils’ abilities in areas other than English reading, comprehension and
spelling. The practice of focusing on the disabilities rather than the abilities of pupils
is a practical example of the discriminating discourses of labelling that permeate the
practical contexts of my research.
21
Discourses of disability and the practice of labelling pupils with specific learning
disability reveal many societal values that are contrary to the explicitly stated aims of
both the Primary Education curriculum and the Special Education curriculum in
Ireland. These curricula primarily aim to:
Enable the child to live a full life as a child and to realise his or her
potential as a unique individual.
(Ireland, Department of Education and Science 1999b, p.7)
Enable the student to live a full life and to realise his/her potential as a
unique individual.
(National Council for Curriculum and Assessment 2002, p. 3)
I endorse the value of respect for the capacities and uniqueness of the individual that
underpin those policy statements. However, there is slippage between the rhetoric of
the curriculum and the practice of its rhetoric. I address this slippage in my research
by working towards practices that promote access and widening participation by
individuals in their own learning. My actions are grounded in my own value around
the unique potential of the individual, which is in keeping with the kinds of
educational values that inform the curriculum aims that I have cited above. Having
achieved such changes in practice I then hope to show how I can potentially
influence others to do the same. I began this process by explaining how I developed
a personal understanding of specific learning disability (dyslexia) and the labelling
of pupils ‘with’ this disability, as I now describe.
2.3 My developing understanding of specific learning disability and the
labelling of pupils as ‘with disability’
My understanding of the nature of specific learning disability (dyslexia) changed
during the course of my research. I described, at the beginning of this chapter, how I
accepted unquestioningly ‘the psychologist’s recommendations of strategies and
commercial programmes.’ I also accepted that a discrepancy in various aspects of IQ
scores was an adequate explanation of ‘why a pupil was having so many difficulties
in school where most of the work is written’ (see my journal entry above). The
22
change in my thinking began as I tried to articulate and make sense of how current
discourses of disability and labelling relate to my practice. Here is an excerpt from a
letter to my research supervisor in which I write about my confusion around these
issues.
My gut feeling is that I was a ‘disabled teacher’ as far as teaching
children with specific learning disabilities (dyslexia) (SLD) were
concerned at the beginning of my research. I took out the box of
knowledge about learning disability. I shovelled as much of that
knowledge into me as I could from that box.
And there it stayed – inside me. I tried to implement commercial
programmes to alleviate SLD. They didn’t work in a class of thirty plus
children where at least 3 children had SLD. So I changed my job and
became a learning support teacher where I would teach 4 children at a
time. I rummaged again in the box of knowledge on SLD. I got a
bigger box and filled it with more knowledge from courses about SLD
– Diplomas in Learning Support, MA in Education and Dyslexia
Association courses. I tutored individual children with SLD and set up
and worked in a workshop for children with SLD. The individual
children I met in my various teaching roles astounded me. They were
often so articulate, very imaginative, artistic, industrious, and had long
memories. This was in contrast to the main features of SLD as seen by
class teachers and psychologists who cite poor language, difficulty
visualising, laziness, untidy writing and poor memory skills especially
for spellings as features.
(30 Feb 2003, correspondence to research supervisor,
original in data archive Appendix 2.1c)
This data shows the state of my thinking in the early stages of my research. By
comparing this early data with the ideas I am expressing in this thesis, it is clear that
my thinking has changed considerably. I moved from understanding my teaching as
a process of ‘fixing’ those with learning difficulties to an appreciation of the
capabilities of those I taught. I also altered my understanding of knowledge as only
objective, reifiable and transferable to also valuing the knowledge-creating potential
of the individuals. These changes influenced the form of theory I developed in my
research, as I discuss in Part Three. The correspondence above also signals the
beginning of my search to understand models of disability as they relate to specific
learning disability in my context. Ware (2003) names these models as a medical
23
model, an educational model and a psycho-social model; all of which hold relevance
for my context. In the following paragraphs I offer an analysis of these models.
~A medical model of disability
Dyslexia, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and dyspraxia, among
other disorders for which resource teaching is provided, are treated within a medical
model of disability when fatty acids, fish oils, and specific neurodevelopment or
primary movement exercises are prescribed as cures. The medical model works from
a perspective of diagnose, prescribe and cure. This implies that the person being
cured has something wrong with them. In this way the disability is placed within the
person. So to a large extent the interactive educational and environmental influences
on an individual are ignored. Research into the success of these prescriptive
approaches is not conclusive (Doyle 2003). I would consider that this is because the
linkages between behaviour, diet, and visual and motor skills are complex and
become problematic within traditional quantitative forms of research, where
evidence is limited as far as possible to one variable at a time. The commercial,
intensive remediation programmes recommended in psychological reports, such as
the one I described at the beginning of this chapter, represent a medical model of
disability. I describe these programmes further in Appendix 4.1. They involve a
model of teaching that treats the child as an object rather than as a unique individual.
Claiming that the child is being treated as an object may sound harsh, but I am
convinced that the form of words is accurate in that the child who is being ‘trained’
is not regarded as the thinking, feeling, constantly developing human that I believe
he/she is. I would also argue that this focus on the child as an object of study rather
than as a human being is at odds with the aims of the primary curriculum in Ireland,
as set out above.
During my teaching career I have become increasingly aware of the humanity of my
pupils. I have noticed their capabilities as people rather than focusing only on the
teaching of reading and writing. I have personally come across those who are
labelled as having specific learning disability (dyslexia) yet who are, in fact, able
learners in many fields such as physics, mathematics, sport, and art. My experiences
are supported by Davis (1994) who writes that successful adults with dyslexia
develop strategies for learning and concludes that they have a gift for being able to
24
think in a three-dimensional fashion, unlike the rest of the population who, he
claims, usually think in a two dimensional way. The adults he writes about were
handicapped by the structure of the print-rich environment of schools. He theorises
that two-dimensional printed words are easy for most people to grasp, but those with
dyslexia (who are three-dimensional thinkers) see print three-dimensionally. By this
he means that each letter can appear as a standing object, which can be viewed from
above, below, front, back, the left or the right. This can make reading difficult for
those with dyslexia and provides an explanation for letter reversals, which are
frequent for those with dyslexia.
~An educational model of disability
At the beginning of this chapter I described how I explain to parents that their child
with specific learning disability (dyslexia), who has strong verbal scores,
demonstrates oral and aural abilities and ‘is having so many difficulties in school’
because ‘most of the work is written’, will thrive once she or he leaves school. In
saying this, I am stating that school is probably having a disabling effect on pupils
because my observations concerning pupils with dyslexia, and also the findings of
Davis (1994), suggest that competent and successful adults with dyslexia were
neither competent nor successful while they were in school. This approach
exemplifies an educational model of disability, as Ware (2003) explains it. Within
this model pupils can become potentially disabled by the interaction between
themselves and the environment. An educational model of disability places
structures, curricula or institutions in a position of power over pupils in ways that
can negate their abilities and have a disabling effect on those individuals while in
school. I believe that education can also become a form of social control to eliminate
troublesome and non-conformist elements (see Bernstein 2000; Bourdieu and
Passeron 1977). Let me explain further. In my work situation, when pupils are
withdrawn from their mainstream classes for the provision of individual resource
tuition, this action is undertaken partly because they do not conform to the stereotype
that children of average intelligence progress at age-appropriate levels in reading,
comprehension and spellings. The common practice of the withdrawal of pupils for
resource teaching is in keeping with provision under an educational model of
disability in that those who do not succeed in learning in normative ways, are
eliminated from mainstream classes for part of each day. It can be argued that this
25
practice is an institutional structure to facilitate teachers rather than pupils. This
concurs with the findings of Kerr (2001) who states that 66% of teachers in his study
‘showed considerable disempowerment’ when faced with a student with dyslexia
(Kerr 2001, p.80).
~A psycho-social model of disability
A form of language that uses terms such as ‘full scale scores’, ‘verbal and
performance discrepancies’, and ‘multisensory teaching systems’, as I described in
the psychological report at the beginning of this chapter, are part of the discourses of
a psycho-social model of disability that exists in my workplace context. This model
focuses on specific groups with disability, and, within this model, special education
again appears to become a form of social control, which is maintained through the
interests of education professionals, including psychologists, and educational and
medical administrators. For example, the definition of specific learning disability
(dyslexia) in popular use is grounded in the criteria currently used by the Department
of Education and Science. This definition is accepted probably because it is
convenient for the appointment of staff whose task it is to deliver extra tuition. It is
an example of a system controlling the people within it and is reminiscent of
Habermas’s (1975) philosophy that the system can be prioritised over the life world.
A further example of this model of disability is that no child in mainstream schools
in Ireland received resource teaching for specific learning disability (dyslexia) prior
to 1998. It could be presumed from this fact that specific learning disability
(dyslexia) was not recognised prior to that date. In 1999 when the Department of
Education and Science established an automatic response granting resource teaching
for specific learning disability (Ireland, Department of Education and Science
1999a), there was a dramatic increase in the number of pupils labelled as having
specific learning disability (Ireland, Department of Education and Science 2002b,
p.39). The absence of such services prior to 1999 appears to be due to lack of
institutional or policy provisions rather than being an indication that pupils’
difficulties did not exist.
All three models of disability present in my workplace are at odds with my belief in
the need for education to enable the student to live a full life and to realise his/her
potential as a unique individual. My personal educational beliefs cannot be
26
dismissed as individual opinions because they are commensurate with national
decisions in Ireland such as in the Primary Curriculum (Ireland, Department of
Education and Science 1999b, p.7) and in the Primary Curriculum for those with
Learning Difficulties (National Council for Curriculum and Assessment 2002, p.3).
Returning now to my omission of pupils from my description of my reactions to a
psychologist’s diagnosis of specific learning disability at the beginning of the
chapter, I want to explain some possible consequences of labelling for pupils with
specific learning disability (dyslexia) in my context. In particular I want to highlight
how those children perceive themselves and how others see them.
The label ‘with disabilities’ is currently considered more politically correct (McGee
1990 and McGee 2004) than terms previously used, such as ‘handicapped’ or a
‘dyslexic person’. These changes in emphasis in the wording of labels over time
reflect societal changes. To address these issues, I chose to focus on specific learning
disability as a learning difference. In doing so my research aims to reflect the views
of Dillon:
Labels (in Special Education) were intended to be usefully descriptive
rather than dangerously prescriptive. Our challenge is to create learning
environments, which celebrate a range of talents and abilities and
thereby to ensure that we do not conflate the label with the person.
(Dillon 2001, p. 37)
Labels can also affect self-esteem as when, for example, in my context, labels can
influence how children perceive themselves and how others see them. I am aware
that the children in my research often build identities to ‘hide insecurities and emit
an image of calmness and being in control’ (Hudak and Kiln 2001, p. 51) as coping
strategies for their loss of self-esteem. These understandings are disturbing because
they raise issues of power, violence and identity, and the existence of these issues
can limit a pupil’s ability ‘to realise his or her potential as a unique individual’ as set
out by the aims of the primary curriculum (Ireland, Department of Education and
Science 1999b, p.7). The work of Bourdieu is also instructive here, as he explains
how language itself can become a form of symbolic power (Bourdieu 1992).
27
I am concerned about the current form of labelling for two reasons: it can lead to an
erosion of personal identity and can influence the development of self-esteem. I have
come across instances where labelling is used as a power strategy, and this use of
power raises issues of equality and justice, as I explain in the following brief
example. In a recent postgraduate course of study, a lecturer referred to me as ‘my
little student’. Being classed as somebody’s little student, I felt a loss of power and a
sense of being controlled by the other – a dismissal of my personal and professional
identity. I understand my loss of self-confidence on that occasion as a reaction to a
form of violence. In his analysis of institutional violence, Block (1989 cited in
Hudak and Kiln 2001, p.47) also describes how ‘our interactions with objects (that is
events, objects and people) define who we are’. Labelling can become part of our
identity formation.
~Why these understandings were disturbing in relation to my values
When I said at the beginning of this chapter that it was ‘Good’ when a psychological
report ‘names strategies and commercial programmes’ and that ‘ I will teach them’, I
was making a decision to teach in a specific way because of the label a child had
received. So in addition to the marginalisation attributable both to the discourses of
disability and to the practice of labelling pupils with specific learning disability
(dyslexia), I became concerned during the course of my research about the
appropriateness of forms of teaching for those pupils. I have also become concerned
that pedagogy is often perceived as knowledge transmission and how this
understanding of knowledge informs how learning is evaluated. These concerns
have given rise to a long list of personal questions: for example, why I had chosen to
research this field. I was asking, ‘Why am I, as a practitioner, concerned about forms
of knowledge? Why am I concerned about particular issues in my practice? Why
have I tried to address these concerns through research? Why do I aim to move
towards greater justice for pupils with specific learning disability (dyslexia), to
address the marginalisation and effects of labelling? Why do I aim to facilitate the
realisation by pupils of their potential as unique individuals capable of learning in
order that they will develop in both self-esteem and learning?’
The questions above are key to the aims that I have chosen for my research; first,
because they are about enabling rather than disabling other human beings; second
28
because they focus on the abilities rather than the disabilities of the individual; and
finally because I want to offer opportunities for the pupils in my care no longer to
perceive themselves as having a learning disability. My research is driven by a
concern for those placed at a disadvantage and by a personal response to an
intellectual challenge posed by teaching those with special educational needs. I hold
values that have changed the way in which I perceive my context and have helped to
focus the aims of my research. These personal values are:
a) Respect for the individual, including ideas about human dignity and
wholeness;
b) Respect for the individual’s ability to learn, including issues of equality and
freedom;
c) Issues of social justice.
I will now explain the meaning and importance of these values in my context and
then relate them to the literature.
(a) Respect for the individual
My current research grew from a concern that objective and externally evaluated
forms of knowledge pervaded my circumstances as a resource teacher. My concern
was that the individual was being overlooked within these forms of knowledge. For
me, this was a denial of respect for the individual person and was contrary to my
ideas about human dignity and wholeness. Respect for other individuals has always
been an integral part of my teaching. In McDonagh (1999a) I wrote about how I
valued the individual by providing differentiated learning provisions for those with
specific learning difficulties in my class. The benefits of this approach were that I
gained a new perspective on the implications of self-esteem in teaching and learning
and how to promote self-esteem in pupils (McDonagh 1999b). I was encouraged by
this experience of articulating my values in practical terms. This has influenced both
my current research question and research methodology.
I have based my research in the everyday, lived experience of those who participated
in it. I was aiming not only for deepened understanding but also I wanted to make a
difference for good in the world through teaching and learning. By making a
29
difference for good I mean changing situations in my practice so that they became
more just. This required making opportunities in my study for dialogue between
class teachers, resource teachers, pupils and myself. To gather the data for my
research, I used dialogue rather than interviews because dialogue, for me, is a cooperative
activity grounded in respect for educative relationships. This concept can
be compared with the Freirean idea of helping the oppressed to move beyond their
culture of silence (Freire 1970, p.15 and Freire et al. 1998) through a form of
dialogue that involves people working with each other rather than one person acting
on another. Opportunities are also afforded through dialogue to demonstrate respect
for others’ ways of thinking. Relating philosophies of justice and freedom with
pluralistic ways of coming to know, underpins the practical approach I adopted in
my research.
Because I trusted and respected the learner I shifted my understanding of the role ‘of
the learner from being the subject or recipient of education’ (Carr 2003, p.4) towards
being active agents in their own learning and education. My personal and
professional values moved my thinking beyond the practical circumstances in my
context towards a Freirean idea of education. Freire (1970, p.55) argues against the
‘banking’ model of education in which the educator makes ‘deposits’ in the educatee
and argues for the exercise of personal agency in learning. In later chapters I explain
the implications of this stance in my research.
(b) Respect for the individual’s ability to learn
The second significant value that informed my research was respect for the
individual’s ability to learn. This meant that I wanted to avoid issues of power and
control that can exist in the relationships between pupils and teachers, where the
concept of ‘teacher knows and pupils learn’ is prevalent in normative forms of
pedagogy. I sought a different concept of the teacher-pupil relationship so that issues
of equality and freedom of choice could be included and addressed. This occurred in
my research when I provided opportunities for children to learn in ways that were
appropriate for them; for example, I examined the appropriateness of the ways in
which I taught and came to understand that I needed to expand opportunities for
socially created learning (McDonagh 2000). I understand socially created learning as
people constructing new knowledge together. My research built on these ideas and
30
became, in part, an exploration of the nature of relationships between people as they
generate knowledge together. I wanted my research to avoid oppression and
domination within teacher–pupil relationships because, as Young (2000, p.45)
argues, such controlling influences are the founding principles for the formation of
injustice. In developing a form of knowledge that was grounded in dialogue, I
wanted my research to demonstrate an epistemological and methodological stance
that was consistent with ideas of social justice.
The work of Young (1990) offers a useful perspective to begin to understand what I
mean by social justice in my research. In her critique of dominant conceptual forms
of theories of justice, Young is concerned with social justice not so much as ‘having’
as with ‘being’. Her theory of having and being is based on the thinking of Fromm
(1976). Social justice as having can be related to the concept of social justice as
equal distribution. The concept of social justice as being can be seen as a
development of Freire et al.’s (1998) ideas of being and having. Young is interested
in the relationships between people that produce social structures and in how some
forms of these social structures can allow injustice to flourish. I, on the other hand,
aimed to facilitate the development of relationships between people – pupils and
teachers – that could encourage social learning. These relationships would allow a
living form of social justice (Sullivan 2006) to flourish by respecting the abilities of
all those involved.
As part of my discussion I want to question the links between the idea of respecting
the ability to learn of the pupils participating in my research, and current forms of
assessment of that ability. I consider that Plato’s view that all ‘knowledge is
recollection’ (Plato Meno 380e) was the basis of much of the early training I
received in teaching in the late 1960s and the basis of all forms of examining
knowledge at that time. I believe the idea of knowledge as recollection is still the
underlying principle of standardised testing. The most common form of standardised
testing in schools is summative rather than formative in nature. Summative testing
aims to test in a prescriptive format by relating pupils’ learning to prescribed
objectives. On the other hand, teachers carry out formative testing daily in class
through monitoring what and how pupils learn in order to inform their next teaching
activity. These performance-indicator-based and standardised tests are grounded in
31
ideas of stimulus, response and reinforcement. This form of learning has been
described as behaviourism by educationalists such as Thorndike in 1917 (see Hilgard
and Bower 1996) and Skinner (see Iversen 1992). Eysenck and Evans (1998), Binet
(see Siegler 1992) and Wechsler (1992) built on the idea that behaviour can be
changed by external stimuli, and they developed a form of psychometric empirical
testing to define the processes of human intelligence. From my perspective these
theorists laid the groundwork for grading processes. The Wechsler Intelligences
Scale for Children (Wechsler 1992) is commonly used as part of the diagnosing
process for specific learning disability and dyslexia in Ireland today. My concern is
that standardised testing offers little to the learner although it facilitates the sorting,
grading and categorising of pupils for the benefit of school management, research
measurements or policy formation. These tests do not measure pupils’ developing
understanding nor do they measure pupils’ capacity for creativity in thinking.
Furthermore they do not measure how pupils are learning. My research has brought
me to an understanding of alternative forms of assessment of both my pupils’ and
my own abilities to learn.
(c) Issues of social justice
Social justice is the third important value, which influenced the aims and procedures
of my research. My understanding is that dominant forms of educational systems
consistently deny social justice when children with specific learning disability
(dyslexia) are perceived as having a learning disability because of their difficulties
with certain curricular areas. Through my research I want to develop more just
situations for these pupils. I am not talking only about an inclusive form of justice as
teaching in ways so that these pupils can take an equal part in mainstream schooling
with their peers. This would be a form of distributive justice, where justice is
explained in terms of all getting an equal share. Nor am I not talking only about a
form of justice where extra teaching is provided for those with the greater identified
learning needs. This form of justice positions justice as fairness (Rawls 2001) in that
those with greatest need are given more. I am talking about a living form of justice,
which I contend is more socially just, because the abilities of the pupils with specific
learning disability (dyslexia) in my research, which were masked prior to my
research, will be recognised and valued publicly. Later in this chapter, I speak about
32
a contributive form of justice where all are enabled to make their contributions in the
public sphere and have their contributions valued.
I want to tell why I am convinced that my pupils have unrecognised capabilities. My
stories are based on my personal experiences and on reading about the life
experiences of others, such as Albert Einstein, who is reputed to have had specific
learning difficulties. One example of the capabilities that I believe that pupils with
specific learning disability (dyslexia) have is that they think laterally and in
innovative ways in order to develop coping strategies. Their engagement in coping
strategies is an attempt to hide their difficulties, as the following research vignette
shows.
During my research a pupil, who was ten years of age, explained to her class teacher
how she (the pupil) avoided being humiliated by being required to answer factual
questions aloud in front of the class. I will describe in Chapter Eight how this
explanation happened following a report by the pupil to a group of teachers on how
dyslexia affected her in class. The pupil had stated that she could not recall answers
when a lesson had been conducted orally because she needed visual supports such as
diagrams, sketches, mind-maps or cue words to help her recall. The pupil said to her
class teacher,
I avoid eye contact with you. I hold my hand and arm up straight.
When my arm is up, you think that I know the answers. I don’t wave
my arm. You think that I am confident that I know the answer. I don’t
make eye contact. You look past me and pick on somebody else to
answer.
(3 March 2003 Tape recording and transcript,
in data archive Appendices 2.4d and 3.1)
The teacher agreed that the pupil was correct in her understanding of the teacher’s
techniques for selecting pupils to give oral answers. The pupil’s coping strategies
demonstrated a perceptiveness and innovative reasoning which would be uncommon
for her age.
33
My understanding is that pupils with specific learning disability may have different
perspectives on learning and ways of innovative reasoning. This idea is reinforced
by biographical information that I have read on Albert Einstein. Einstein thought in a
particular way that worked for him, as history shows. Although he was a great
mathematician and physicist, his learning difficulties were obvious in his failure to
learn mathematical tables. His personal coping strategy for these difficulties was to
write the tables around the walls of the room where he worked (Dyslexia-at-bay.com
2005). My personal experiences of teaching pupils with specific learning difficulties
over many years has convinced me of their abilities for developing coping strategies
– like Einstein and his tables – within an educational system that does not suit them,
as the vignette above illustrates.
My second research story describes my understanding that each unique pupil with
specific learning disability (dyslexia), in my care, can have intuitive knowledge and
skills in specific areas that are beyond what is often demonstrated by their peers who
have not been given this label. The following is an example of what I mean. A pupil
with dyslexia wrote a piece of text on a computer in word-art. It was illegible to
peers because of its size or colour but particularly because of its unusual shapes – as
in the example below. However the pupil with dyslexia read it without any
difficulty.
The writing says, ‘Famous people who were dyslexic’
(26 January 2003, Pupil’s Report, see Appendix 2.6c)
A second example of my understanding deals with the ability of a pupil with
dyslexia to tackle mathematical problems in innovative ways. He could explain the
unusual mathematical processes he engaged in but not why he solved mathematical
problems – both numerical calculations and concepts – in those ways, by saying,
‘I just know.’
(20 March 2004, Pupil P’s journal, in data archive Appendix 2.1g)
In further reading about Einstein, I realised that he, too, had an intuitive awareness in
that he had hit on his theory of relativity intuitively (as it appeared to him) at the age
34
of sixteen, according to Polanyi (1958). Quoting Einstein’s diary, Polanyi describes
how it was
‘From a paradox I had already hit at the age of sixteen’…after 10 years
reflection he wrote up his famous formula.
(Polanyi 1958, p.10)
The process of reflection and metacognitive awareness of his personal ways of
thinking was vital for Einstein’s formulation of his theory of relativity – a process
that took him ten years. I aimed to question if the pupils who were engaged in my
research might also have an intuitively clear view of the world of learning. I was
asking if these pupils had discovered personal and unique ways of learning. I also
questioned if pupils could make their ways of learning explicit. These questions are
about pupils and teachers explaining their ways of learning or knowing to each other
and are part of my reasons for choosing to locate my study ‘with’ rather than ‘on’
my pupils. My research aimed to show how my pupils and I could together come to
know and come to value what we know.
My ideas resonate with the work of Freire because an important element of his
philosophy of Pedagogy of Hope (1994) was the idea of ‘conscientization’. Taylor
(1993) describes the term as:
conscientization – developing consciousness, but a consciousness that
is understood to have the power to transform reality.
(Taylor 1993, p.52)
In summary I can say that my thesis does not aim to be a document about teaching
children with specific learning disability (dyslexia) to read or cope with the school
curriculum. It is a thesis on equality, respect and the rights of individuals to come to
know in their own way, following the traditions already pioneered by authors such as
Fromm (1976) and Freire (1994), who speak, among other things, about having and
being and personal forms of knowing. My research was about moving beyond
teacher craft or the unconscious intuitive processes of the classroom. My thesis
35
contains explanations for my own processes of developing metacognitive reflection
on my practice through enquiring into my practice.
2.4 Initial practical implications of my research for my pupils and me
My research is about theorising changes in my practice. In practical terms, I want my
pupils to find their own ways of negotiating their difficulties with learning and
particularly learning to spell, and I want to find the best ways to help them to do this.
So far in this chapter I have described contexts and concepts that militate against
this. These descriptions represent the second of the metaphorical waves that crashes
against me and tugs at me as the pervasive contradictions of living every day in the
society in which I live. As I noted earlier, Irish society, although founded on
aspirations of democracy and freedom of the individual to achieve their potential,
continues to reproduce forms of dominance and injustice that contribute to the
marginalisation of people.
Key aims of my study were to
• Show how my pupils can come to value what they know and how they
come to know it;
• Explore the nature of relationships between people which foster
knowledge creation, and to develop the kinds of relationship that avoid
oppression and domination;
• Become part of making a difference in the world for good through the
demonstration of the exercise of my educative influence.
These aims became the living standards of judgement that I used to test my
knowledge claims, as I explain throughout. In the remainder of this chapter I want to
say how I am transforming my conceptual analysis of the reasons that prompted my
research into an explanation for how I realised those conceptual analyses in the form
of my real-life commitments. In doing so I am exploring how my commitments can
be understood as grounded in my ontological values and how those ontological
values can be seen also as the grounds for the articulations of my living standards of
judgement for my research.
36
I intend to demonstrate that I am moving towards a methodology that respects the
individual and the individual’s ability to learn. I am also articulating my
understandings of knowledge in which my research is based. I use the three values
that I have named in the last section to frame this account. These values are:
o Respect for the individual
o Respect for the individual’s ability to learn
o Further issues of social justice
~Respect for the individual
My respect for the individual can be seen in the form of research question that I
developed. Respect for both my pupils and myself as individuals was a reason for
the personalised form of research question I developed – ‘How do I improve my
teaching of pupils with specific learning disability who are within my care as a
resource teacher in a primary school?’ The question grew from reflection on how I
had taught over the last nine years of working in various areas of special education.
These reflections made me aware that I could not separate the person that I am from
the work that I do. This understanding meant that I could not teach solely as a
technician by finding the most appropriate teaching strategy or programme to deliver
a specific set of facts. Because, as a resource teacher, I reflect my values and myself
in my work, I searched for a methodology to accommodate my articulated values
and I aimed to find methods that required ‘less time ranking children and more time
helping them to identify their natural competences and gifts, and cultivate those’
(Goleman 1995, p.37). I did not approach my research with a prescriptive
methodology. By constantly checking my data collection and research methods
against the values that I have named, I developed a methodology that is eclectic and
is responsive to the individual’s attempts to develop new understandings. I will
explain further in Part Three.
~Respect for the individual’s ability to learn
Working from a belief in an individual’s ability to learn included providing
opportunities for children to learn in ways that are appropriate for them. This
required taking note of how I, as a teacher, developed my learning and made
37
changes in my practice to achieve this. Integrating the role as a teacher and as a
researcher in monitoring myself in action in the classroom was problematic. I needed
data that recognised pedagogical expertise in terms other than scientific and
technical. I came to realise that teacher practice was broader than the ‘what’ and
‘how’ of teaching or the technically accurate delivery of programmes, no matter how
well suited they are to pupils’ needs.
The educational theories that informed the various programmes, recommended in
many psychological assessments for the teaching of pupils with specific learning
disability, influenced how I taught those programmes. In examining the
epistemological bases of these programmes my research took me beyond debates
around behaviourist, constructivist or scaffolded methods of learning. Many of these
programmes are grounded in what Olson and Bruner (1996) call ‘folk psychology’
and theoretically inspired behaviourism which, as Conway (2002) states, puts
a premium on three basic pedagogical strategies; breaking down tasks
into small and manageable pieces, teaching the basics first and
incrementally reinforcing and rewarding observable progress.
(Conway 2002, p.72)
Skinner’s (1954) and Gagné’s (1965) theories support the idea of the teacher not
only instructing, as is the case in all these programmes, but also controlling the
stimulus for learning to which pupils respond. Placing the teacher as the controller of
learning removes much of the power to learn from the individual pupil. On the other
hand, constructivist theories position the learner in a more active role. Vygotsky
(1978 and 1986), in developing theories about the Zone of Proximal Development
(ZPD), speaks of the improvements a learner can make in terms of the distance
between the actual level of development and the level of potential development
under adult guidance or in collaboration with more able peers. Bruner (1985) uses
the metaphor of scaffolding to explain the supporting of learning and ZPD. My
research was raising questions such as, If I am to be the supporter of learning, how
do I know that the form of my support is appropriate?
38
I am questioning how I, as a teacher, learned to value the expertise of my
professional practice, my knowledge base of teacher craft, and how I have honed this
craft over twenty years of general teaching. Similarly I need to find ways to help my
pupils come to value what they know and how they come to know it. My methods
needed to reflect an appreciation of personal knowledge, both my own and my
pupils’. I provided opportunities for my pupils to become co-researchers in my
research and we – both the pupils and I – investigated teaching methods and my
pupils’ learning methods. In this way I had come to see myself and my pupils as able
learners and not learning disabled.
~Further issues of social justice
The idea of social justice in my research came to mean working to benefit
individuals (children, other teachers) and myself who were suffering injustices,
within our complex education system, because of issues around specific learning
disabilities. A practical standard of judgement to assess the success of my work can
be whether I have reconceptualised curriculum as a knowledge-generating exercise
in which pupils can participate, as well as teachers. In this way I am asking if I have
arranged the conditions of learning for my students in terms of offering them full
participation in creating their own knowledge.
My research, while valuing action for improvement, needed to be underpinned by a
firm philosophical and educational basis. To do this, I next speak about the idea of
justice, which informs my research. As far back as Plato’s ‘Republic’, the term
‘justice’ is depicted in ideas of the common good of all citizens. In my research I am
aiming for improvement towards a good social order but this does not equate with
Plato’s description of distributive justice, which suggests that assets can be divided
equally. Today justice debates in education often have a dual focus. First they
explain distributive justice in terms of who gets what. Global examples of
distributive justice are the promotion of universal elementary schooling and
campaigns for universal literacy (Coolahan 1994). In the multimillion Euro industry
that is our education service today, a variety of distributive justice exists that is about
‘who gets how much of the education service or money’ (Connell 1993, p.17).
Despite the rhetoric of these stances, justice in educational terms cannot be achieved
by distributing the same amount of a good standard of education to children of all
39
social classes and abilities because, in practical terms, the personal commitments and
aptitudes of the learner must be taken into account. Therefore, when investigating
the learning experience of pupils with specific learning disability (dyslexia), I
wanted to move away from a distributive model of justice and focus on contribution
rather than distribution. By contributive justice I meant providing opportunities to
contribute to a good social order through developing the capacity for selfdevelopment
and self-determination (Young 2000). In my research context this
meant that both the pupils and I had opportunities to contribute within our personal
experiences of learning. This involved an acceptance of difference – different ways
of being, different forms of knowledge and different ways of learning.
Griffiths (1998) provides three valuable perspectives on social justice, which form
the basis of the working definition I used within my research. ‘The first principle of
social justice is that ‘there is no one right answer’ (Griffiths 1998, p.11). Hence my
quest for social justice is more about engaging in processes than generating definite
findings. This focus on process is also in line with an action research approach.
Therefore, a relevant methodological approach for my research was to adopt
McNiff’s (1988) conceptualisation of spirals in action research. This model however
represents the antithesis of traditional propositional forms of research, which search
for the ‘right answer’ through linear methodologies. The second principle cited by
Griffiths (1998) is that each individual is recognised and valuable, and that no one
exists apart from her/his community. Positioning my pupils as co-participants in the
research process rather than objects of enquiry seemed to give them both influence
and importance. The third principle is that we create ourselves in and within
relationship with community. As Griffiths (1998) states,
we created ourselves in and against sections of that community as
persons with gender, social class, race, sexuality and (dis)ability.
(Griffiths 1998, p.12)
This principle speaks to the idea of educational research as a form of understanding
and explaining one’s capacity for educative influence in the learning community.
This concept of exercising one’s influence in learning is a key feature of my
research.
40
I now want to look at what led me towards my reconceptualisation of social justice.
My revisioning of my practice began when I became aware of my own learned
helplessness in dealing with the classroom difficulties of pupils with specific
learning disability (dyslexia) in 1997, as I described them in the Foreword. My
journey to address my learned helplessness started with courses of the Dyslexia
Association of Ireland on specific learning disability. Many such courses, delivered
in a didactic/transmission or ‘lecturing-at’ style, had a disempowering effect by
giving a teacher new knowledge of the subject while ignoring the practical assistance
necessary to implement changes in pedagogy and curriculum. Further reflection on
my practice as a teacher occurred during a postgraduate programme of study, where
I enjoyed a particular form of learning. This form of learning was informed by
McNiff’s (McNiff and Whitehead 2006, p.2) values and understanding of action
research as a transformative, generative process. In my search to address the
question of ‘How do I improve my teaching of pupils with specific learning
disability who are within my care as a resource teacher in a primary school?’ I
sought a methodology that was transformative and generative. The value of respect
for an individual’s ability to learn, on which my research is grounded, encouraged
me as a teacher, to ‘be reflective of my own practice in order to enhance the quality
of education for my pupils and myself’ (McNiff 1988, p.1). This implied a research
methodology that valued the idea of the person and their personal knowledge.
I needed to change my understanding in order to change my practice, as a teacher, so
as to succeed in addressing my pupils’ educational needs. To facilitate this personal
transformation I chose a self-study methodology, which is in line with
recommendations 7.2 to 7.7 of the Task Force on Dyslexia on both the pre- and inservice
professional development of teachers (Ireland, Department of Education and
Science 2002b), which include:
Intensive in-career development courses dealing with the identification
of learning difficulties arising from dyslexia, differentiated teaching,
programme planning and implementation at the individual student
level should be arranged for all class and subject teachers on an ongoing
basis.
(Ireland, Department of Education and Science 2002b, p113)
41
the creation of a school environment which prevents or limits obstacles
to learning which students may experience.
(Ireland, Department of Education and Science 2002b, p115)
I chose a self-study action research approach, so that my research would be of
immediate benefit to my pupils. I believe that this was a way of implementing
personal and professional change through research, as can be seen in the many
research theses on the websites jeanmcniff.com (2006) and actionresearch.net.
(2006).

My thesis therefore is not a book or box full of propositional knowledge, nor is it just
a document about teaching children how to read and spell. It is a living thesis on
freedom, justice and the rights of individuals to come to know in their own way,
following the traditions already pioneered by authors such as Freire (1994),
Whitehead (actionresearch.net 2006) and McNiff (jeanmcniff.com 2006).
2.5 Summary
In this chapter I have explained how I have come to three major issues in my
research and how I aim to address them.
1. A clash of values exists between policy and the social practices concerning
the education of those with specific learning disability (dyslexia). I aim to
redress this by celebrating the humanity and potential of myself and my
pupils I teach. This aim is grounded in my value of respect for the individual.
2. In relation to my developing understanding of specific learning disability and
the labelling of pupils with disability, I aim to enable both the pupils and
myself to be seen by ourselves and others as valuable citizens. This aim is
grounded in my belief in the capacity of the individual to learn.
3. I consider why my current understandings of specific learning disability
(dyslexia) are disturbing and this raises issues around social justice, which I
aim to address through my research. The initial implication of this for me in
relation to my pupils’ learning is how to enable them to negotiate their
difficulties with spellings, and how to find the best ways to help them.
42
The personal values as articulated in this chapter informed the purposes of my
research and these values became the practical criteria by which my work can be
judged, as follows.
In terms of learning and knowledge,
• Did I engage with issues of how I come to know and how my coming to
know was informed by how I helped my children to come to know?
In terms of specific learning disability,
• Did I find ways to help children come to value what they know and how
they know it?
In terms of social justice,
• Have I reconceptualised curriculum as a knowledge-generating exercise
in which pupils participated, as well as teachers? In this way have I
arranged the conditions of learning for my students, which offer them
fuller participation in creating their own knowledge?
In this section I have described the practical concerns and epistemological
background of my work. In doing so I have highlighted the two major influences on
me as a researcher. These are my personal commitments to my work and my
awareness of tensions between my values and my practice. Part Two of this thesis
conceptualises these concerns in term of the core issues of my study and the further
development of my conceptual frameworks.
43
44
PART TWO: CORE ISSUES OF MY RESEARCH
In this second Part, I want to review my practice prior to and in the early stages
of my research. First I reconsider my actions following the receipt of a diagnosis
of specific learning disability for a pupil. There are two key areas, from my
description in Chapter Two, that I intend to examine in the next two chapters.
The first is in relation to how I conceptualised specific learning difficulties. In
Chapter Three I consider my values around learning and relate them to the
focus on learning strengths that I expressed when I said,
This discrepancy is very useful. It tells me that this pupil will learn
better when new information is presented orally rather than in written
form only. When I am explaining the report to the child’s parents, I can
emphasise the pupil has strengths above his average scores in verbal
areas. I point out that this difference will be very helpful for him in
career choices later in his life. His lower scores in performance IQ
explain why he is having so many difficulties in school where most of
the work is written.
(See p.19 above)
Chapter Four centres on how I attempt to encourage this understanding of learning
through my teaching. I relate my stance on learning to how I teach and evaluate the
programmes recommended in the psychological report, given that I have said in the
past,
Good, it names strategies and commercial programmes. I will
definitely teach these programmes.
(See p. 19 above)
I offer explanations for my practice, justifying how these accounts can be seen to
constitute my own living educational theory as described by Whitehead (1989). I
show how different conceptualisations of theory exist in the literature, and how I
engage with the literature in order to justify my own theoretical stance. I explain why
I challenge the view that theory is a discrete body of knowledge (see Popper, 1963
and 1972; Pring, 2000). I present my preferred stance of understanding practice as a
living form of theory itself, that can be generated from studying one’s own practice
(Whitehead 1989; Whitehead and McNiff 2006). Accordingly, I am developing
45
ideas about the philosophical underpinnings of my research as my living theory of
practice in the next two chapters.
Continuing my strategy of writing my thesis as a report of my action enquiry, I am
also asking myself, ‘Why am I concerned?’ My answer includes explaining how my
values informed the conceptual frameworks of my research. The labelling, the
discourses, the dominant epistemological base from which specific learning
disability (dyslexia) is understood, are all reasons for concern to me. My ontological
and epistemological values are contrary to those that underpin the dominant form of
knowledge in Irish education in that I believe that my pupils and I are valuable
humans, and I am concerned that current systemic constraints can prevent the
realisation of my potential and my pupils’ potential. I believe in the worth of the
individual and that people need to be free to develop themselves in terms of that
worth (Sen 1999). My research focus is to understand and overcome those
constraints in my context.
I am challenging dominant theories about specific learning disabilities (dyslexia) that
adopt an objective or spectator view of knowledge (Hornsby 1995; Snowling 2000).
The concept of spectator forms of knowledge is well established in the literature and
communicates the idea that the researcher is a spectator and pupils (and others) are
the objects of study. When this view enters a research field, the kind of theory
developed is often of an abstract, reified form (Atkins and Tierney 2004; De Buitléir
2002; Herbert 2006). I chose not to adopt this stance for my research; instead I
wished to investigate my research area from what has become known as an insider
or internalist perspective (Chomsky 1986; McNiff 2002). This meant that I
positioned myself as a researcher who was conducting her own self-study (Loughran
et al. 2004) into how I could develop pedagogies that would enable me to enhance
the quality of learning experience for pupils in my care who are labelled with
specific learning disability (dyslexia).
I explain that the forms of theory and practice, which I outline in this section,
inform my own practical, living theory of learning to teach for social justice. I
explain and test my new understandings in later sections of this thesis.
46
CHAPTER THREE: My Conception of the Nature of Learning for Pupils with
Specific Learning Disability (Dyslexia)
3.1 Introduction
In this chapter I am describing the third wave of influence on my research, which, as
I said in Chapter One, was the practical significance of traditional theories of
learning for my teaching of children with specific learning disability (dyslexia). I
have spoken in Chapter Two of how I excluded children in discussions about their
own learning, and now I explain why I chose to reverse this situation by involving
the children who participated in my research as agents in their own learning. In
doing so I took action in accordance with my conviction that these children have
significant intellectual capacity. In this chapter I show that my decisions have also
been informed by my values base as a Christian and by the idea of the importance of
embodied knowledge in human enquiry, as explained by Polanyi (1958) and
Whitehead (1993).
I examine and analyse situations in my practice in order to come to an understanding
of the nature of learning for the pupils I teach who are labelled as having specific
learning disability (dyslexia). I show how different conceptualisations of learning
exist in the discourses in my context and in the literature. I explain why I challenge
the view that learning should be portrayed as training (Skinner 1957) or as being
constructed for learners (Vygotsky 1978 and Bruner 1985). The understanding of
learning that I arrive at, includes conserving some of the strengths of such existing
theories of learning and building on them in ways that value the individual and
his/her capacities for knowing and learning.
I have identified two key issues arising from my emergent understandings of
normative theories of learning. The first of these issues was the exclusionary nature
of learning where the learner’s voice was often marginalised within the learning
process. The second issue was the conflicting nature of the theoretical bases of
learning, as it was constituted in my context. The Education Act 1998 (Government
of Ireland 1998, s.9, p13) requires educators to provide appropriate teaching for
learning for pupils with specific learning disability (dyslexia), and I do so by first
47
ensuring that my research offers a practical approach to addressing these theoretical
and epistemological issues.
3.2 How learning is conceptualised in my practice: does it value the
individual?
I begin this section with a description of how I taught at the beginning of my
research process. I was teaching programmes that had been recommended in my
pupils’ psychological reports. More details about the programmes that I mention are
in Appendix 4.1.
Pupil F sat across the table from me. His photocopy of P.A.T. Worksheet Ten from
Phonological Awareness Training (P.A.T.) Level 1 (Wilson 1999) was in front of
him. I had already tested Pupil F on the reading sheets provided in the beginning of
the programme manual, which indicated that this was the appropriate sheet for him
to work at. Worksheet ten looked something like this
a b c d e f g h I j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z
gl bl pl st th
-ank -ide -ock -and
Blank
I wrote the word ‘blank’ in the column under ‘-ank’ and said, ‘This is how we make
blank.’ As I wrote, I only said ‘bl’ and ‘–ank’ with accentuation. I asked Pupil F to
think of more words that sounded like ‘blank’. I invited Pupil F to use the alphabet
and consonants blends on the worksheet to find letters that could go with ‘-ank’ to
make real words. I knew that Pupil F had major problems in writing, so I gave him a
plastic alphabet with red-coloured vowels and blue-coloured consonants. I
demonstrated how I wanted Pupil F to place the letters of the rime ‘ank’ together in
front of him and then to place each blend of consonants to the left of his rime and
then to sound out the word it made aloud. Later in the day Pupils B and Pupil D did a
similar exercise. Pupil D traced his words on a tray of sand because he enjoyed it
and appeared to learn better when I gave him tactile activities. Pupil B used script
writing to fill in her worksheet because linking the letters repeatedly helped her
48
memorise letter strings (Cripps 1988). After exactly five minutes I moved us onto
the next task.
For the next ten minutes Pupil F read aloud from Toe by Toe (Cowling and
Cowling.1993) starting at page 37 (there is a sample in Appendix 4.2). I gave him a
tick for each set of sounds or words that he read correctly and a dot for those he
could not read. We did this reading activity daily. When Pupil F read correctly on
three separate occasions, he was deemed (according to the authors of Toe by Toe) to
know those sound or words and so I omitted them from his reading and moved onto
new word lists.
We read a story on page thirty from Alpha to Omega Activity Pack Stage One
(Hornsby et al. 1999) together. I shadow read, supplying sounds or whole words
when Pupil F was unsure of them. I asked Pupil F to guess a possible ending for the
story and then he verbally answered the comprehension questions supplied in the
book about the story. Finally he completed page 31 by writing in missing words in a
cloze exercise containing thirteen sentences similar to the one below, all of which
had words made up of consonant blends.
2. grab grog glum grin
Do not be so _____
I finished the lesson by telling Pupil F that I would correct his written work later and
asked him, ‘What did you learn today?’ and, ‘What do you want to do tomorrow?’
(see Appendix 5.2a).
These final questions were an indication of my values around my pupil’s capacity to
be aware of his learning and active in planning his own learning. The questions also
indicated my understanding of learning as personal. I also used the term ‘we’ and
worked together with Pupil F in the reading exercise, demonstrating that I was acting
within an understanding of learning as, in part, a social process.
49
I want to explain how this lesson is an example of other values I held around
learning. The lesson and the Individual Educational Plan (IEP see Table 3.1 below
and full sample is in Appendix 6.1) that I had devised for Pupil F indicated that I was
working within a propositional form of thinking at that time. Although Individual
Educational Planning documents were a job requirement, the wording in them was
mine and so I perceive them as an indicator of my thinking at that time.
Table 3.1: Extract from an Individual Learning Plan 2001 (Appendix
5.1)
PRIORITY LEARNING TARGETS:
1. Alpha to Omega activities pages 19-49
2. Complete level 1 PAT
3. Toe by Toe page 6 – 50
4. Wordshark short vowel activities
5. Read 20 words from Dolch common word
list.
6. Pupil B will demonstrate that she knows
letter sounds by indicating the letter when I say
the sound on 10 occasions.
Target
Date
Date
Achieved
Teaching Strategies
Teacher modelling and practice
Materials/Resources
Alpha to Omega Book 1: P.A.T 2:Toe By Toe: Wordshark 2L and the Dolch
common word list
Home
Follow class homework
The learning targets indicate that I was using a form of propositional knowledge,
because I was positioning knowledge as information and skills to be acquired by
setting those specific targets for the attainment of learning. I was also engaging with
causal logic in that I supposed that my modelling and pupil copying of practice
would cause pupils to learn. I considered learning as a
process, by which skills, attitudes, knowledge and concepts are
acquired, understood, applied and extended.
(Pollard 1997, p.134)
I had chosen materials and resources that were based on others’ theories of learning.
I, like other teachers, considered myself as attempting to apply others’ learning
50
theories to my practice, rather than being a theorist of my practice. I did not perceive
myself then as having knowledge-creating capacities. I am of the opinion that this
was because I was working within a system which, as I have shown in Chapter One,
holds fast to technical–rational forms of theory and logic. Consequently I was
discouraged from thinking critically about how learning was happening. My
situation is similar to Marcuse’s (1964 and 2002) suggestion that technical-rational
forms of theory and logic can close down debate and critique. Marcuse held that
thinking and knowledge are often reified. He describes the consequences of this as a
one-dimensional universe of thought and behaviour. In this way he suggests that
critical thinking can be discouraged. I felt that I had been unconsciously subsumed
into a one-dimensional world in terms of theorising forms of learning in my practice.
Although I was teaching programmes that were recommended in the psychologist’s
report about Pupil F, I was devaluing his ability to learn and think for himself in that
I had chosen the skills that he should acquire and how he would acquire them. Yet I
was also acting on a different understanding of learning that positioned learning as
personal to the learner when I sought the pupils’ areas of strength from the
subdivision of IQ scores in the psychologists’ reports. Similarly, I adjusted my
teaching of the P.A.T. programme to permit Pupils F, D and B to work within their
own personal strengths by allowing them to record the words they made using nonwritten,
sensory and letter string approaches.
I was acting on a conceptualisation of learning as both personal and as an on-going
process of skill acquisition. When I asked at the end of my lesson, ‘What did you
learn today?’ and ‘What do you want to do tomorrow?’(Appendix 5.2a), I was
positioning learning as ‘a process both of not knowing and of coming to know’
(McNiff 2002, p.8) which means that the learning process is being explained from
the personalised perspective of the learner as a transformational experience. I was
also positioning learning, as Pollard (1997) explains it, as a linear process for change
in that it includes understanding, application and extension. By reflecting on my own
role as a resource teacher and on current policy conditions that recommend how
learning should happen, it appears to me that these two different conceptions of
learning struggle for dominance in my practical context.
51
~ How learning is conceptualised in the discourses around my practice
In order to engage critically with how learning was happening for the children with
specific learning disability (dyslexia) that I teach, I reflected on my understanding of
the discourses around their learning. The government has made two significant
contributions to these discourses during the course of my research, in the report of
the Task Force on Dyslexia (Ireland, Department of Education and Science 2002b)
and in Understanding Dyslexia: Challenges and Opportunities (Ireland, Department
of Education and Science and Northern Ireland, Department of Education 2004),
which was a joint initiative of the Departments of Education North and South in
Ireland. Both Government documents have on the one hand provided political and
practical contexts for my research that are grounded in objective, quantifiable
knowledge, and they also adopt a medical model of disability, which I described in
the previous chapter. On the other hand my understanding that the children who
participated in my research can think for themselves and are capable of being agents
in their own learning is also signalled in these documents in terms of valuing each
individual student with dyslexia and in references to personal knowledge as well as
the socially created nature of learning. My reflections below on these documents
highlight the struggle between theory and practice in the contexts of my research.
The major recommendations of the Task Force on Dyslexia (Government of Ireland,
2002b), unlike my approach of valuing the individual as a person, objectify the
individual, in that the Task Force recommendations cater for the needs of each
student at varying levels of abstraction. This is demonstrated when the Task Force
Report adopts a medical model of provision by recommending the diagnosis of
needs followed by prescriptive suggestions at a remove from pupils such as
(a) career-long professional development courses for teachers;
(b) quantifying services provided by other agencies;
(c) schools and teachers addressing the diagnosed needs by the provision of
extra teaching hours and policies.
These recommendations are based on objective and quantifiable forms of
knowledge. However the report articulates the centrality of the individual when it
recommends,
52
The adoption of a model of provision based on the needs of each
student along the continuum of learning difficulties arising from
dyslexia.
(Ireland, Department of Education and Science 2002b, p.xiv)

Yet, the report recommends three practices that exclude the individual learner from
active participation. These practices focus on accountability rather than how
individual pupils learn in that,
(a) Teachers are to address the individuals’ ‘needs’ by administration
processes such as checklists to identify pupil difficulties;
(b) Parental involvement in decision-making about the continuation or
discontinuation of support services;
(c) Programme planning and recording by teachers.
In the lesson described above, the shadow reading and my use of ‘we’ placed Pupil F
and me within a creative relationship of learning. My commitment to the idea of
knowledge generation as a creative process is also articulated when the Task Force
Report calls for ‘a whole-school, multidisciplinary approach to catering for all those
with dyslexia across all levels’ (Day 2003, p.76). The report, however, has no
practical recommendations about how this process can happen. There is slippage
between rhetoric and practice. In my research I offer not only an account of my
practice as a dynamic, transformational form of theory but also as a demonstration of
how the voice of the individual with dyslexia can be included, which may help to
bridge this gap between rhetoric and practice.
The second, recent government publication Understanding Dyslexia (Department of
Education and Science and Department of Education of Northern Ireland 2004) was
distributed to every primary school in 2005 and positions the political and practical
contexts of my work within a positivist and objectivist perspective. An example of
this is a section dedicated to learning conditions and supporting learning. This
section ignores the role of the learner or teacher and consists of suggesting
(i) Practical objects of support such as bookmarks, books on tape, ICT
facilities such as PCs and Dictaphones (p.21);
53
(ii) Learning conditions such as practical modifications to the workplace of
the pupils such as minimising noise and visual distractions, wall displays
and colour-highlighted checklists (p.20).
The learning relationship between teacher and pupils that is a central theme in my
research is omitted in Understanding Dyslexia (Ireland, Department of Education
and Science and Northern Ireland, Department of Education 2004). Understanding
Dyslexia articulates an understanding of learning as both personal and social. It cites
examples of learning happening in pupil-to-pupil and adult-to-adult relationships in
that it recommends both the grouping of pupils and ‘working buddies’ (p.20) to help
with the support, direction and motivation of learners. Significantly, the teacher and
pupil relationship is not named as part of the learning process. Understanding
Dyslexia also makes a brief reference to awareness of personal knowledge, in that
teachers are encouraged to ‘ask parents how their children learn best’ and to ‘be
prepared to learn from parents’ (p.21). For me, the important learning relationships
of pupils and teachers are again omitted from this document. Instead it positions the
teacher as a facilitator and diagnostician supporting learning by using objects and
strategies such as those mentioned in the previous paragraph.
Both government documents cited adopt behaviouristic approaches to learning and
to pupil motivation to learn, just as I had done by teaching the programmes
recommended for Pupil F by an educational psychologist. This behaviourist
approach to teaching and learning is evident in the language and discourses of the
government documents I am discussing, as well as many of the programmes
recommended for those with specific learning disability. Understanding Dyslexia,
for example, suggests the following 115 programmes for assisting those with
specific learning disability/dyslexia, most of which are based on behaviouristic
approaches to learning: 24 phonological skills, 24 multisensory reading programmes,
19 handwriting, 26 spelling, 10 expressive writing, 7 mechanics of writing and 5
mindmaps.
Having taught most of these recommended programmes during the course of my
career, I find that they have a dual focus. First there is an emphasis on a medical
model of disability where control over the learning process is removed from the
54
learner to an ‘other’. The ‘other’ I am referring to here is the programme facilitator,
teacher or tutor. The learner is positioned as subservient to the learning strategies.
This brings to mind Bourdieu’s (1990) comment that in positivist logics, the model
is superior to the practice it is supposed to represent. The second focus of these
commercial programmes, in my view, is an emphasis on deconstructing or
segmenting English reading and writing into components and skills through which
the disabled learners’ knowledge is expected to be reconstructed.
This deconstruction/construction approach positions learners as recipients of a body
of knowledge and specific skills. My research challenges this stance, because this
stance positions the learner in a passive role, ignoring his or her capabilities for
thinking critically. In my research I tackled the passivity and invisibility of the
learner, which often occurs in behaviourist approaches to learning, and which
dominate my field, by encouraging the children in my research to voice their
experiences of learning. In this way I addressed the polarised positioning of learning
that occurs in my context by combining Pollard’s (1997) and McNiff’s (2002)
explanations of learning so that learning for me and my pupils became an on-going
personal process of not knowing and of coming to know.
~ Different conceptualisations of learning exist in the literature
The lesson that I described at the beginning of this chapter positioned Pupil F as the
recipient of the skills that I chose to teach, yet despite this, the personalised
adjustments that I made in teaching the recommended programmes, such as not
expecting every pupil to write the list of words in P.A.T., showed that I valued each
individual pupil. I now want to relate the actions I was taking to individually support
my pupils with specific learning disability (dyslexia) to the literature in the field.
Specifically I consider how the learner is positioned in the relationships between
traditional theories of learning and discourses of disability. In this section I compare
the three models of disability (medical, educational and psycho-social), which are
present in my context, with three traditional theories of learning, in order to discover
what understanding of learning emerges. In making these comparisons, I am
flagging up issues around the epistemological base of intervention programmes and
curriculum for the children I taught when I began my research.
55
Each of the three main models of disability – medical, educational and psycho-social
– position the learner, who is labelled as disabled, as Other. The medical model
treats the child as an object of study rather than as a unique individual because it
works from a perspective of diagnosis, prescription and cure. Similarly, in
behaviourist theories of learning (Skinner 1954 and Gagné 1965) I, as a teacher, am
positioned as the controller of learning within cycles of behaviour management in
learning using stimulus, response, and observation to regulate learning. These cycles
adopt a medical model of diagnose, prescribe and cure to learning. In this way the
learner appears as a passive recipient in the process of internalising a body of
knowledge. An example of the combination of medical and behaviourist models of
remediation in learning is the extensive research into phonological awareness and
multisensory programmes to aid the learning of those with specific learning
disability (dyslexia). Wise, Ring and Olson (1999), for example, in their large-scale
study of various forms of remediation such as these programmes, find that the actual
type of phonological awareness training is less important than the need to embed that
training within a well-structured approach to reading. The scientific and structured
process that Wise, Ring and Olson (1999) advocate therefore envisages learning as
enabled through structured training, and diminishes the role of the learner in the
process.
Within the second model of disability – an educational model – the child becomes
potentially disabled by the interaction between itself and its environment;
environment here includes the ways in which the child is expected to learn, similar
to Bourdieu’s (1977) idea of habitus. This model of disability places structures or
curricula as frameworks of power over students. These conditions can negate the
abilities of the individual child and have a disabling effect. Similarly, within a
constructivist approach, learning can be managed by the teacher to the extent of
providing tools for learning and staged developmental learning situations.
Constructivist theories of learning also include structures, processes and programmes
that often ignore the abilities of the individual child in areas not addressed by these
programmes and can have a disabling effect on an individual child while in school.
Using a construction metaphor to demonstrate the precedence of systems and
designs over individuals, I, as the teacher, provide the building blocks, cement,
56
spades and trowels. The pupils use the tools provided to stick the blocks together
into a pre-designed structure.
A psycho-social model of disability, the third model of disability, focuses on specific
groups with disability and this grouping happens when experts take control of
aspects of the disability. For example, psychologists, neurologists and
educationalists all engage in research into dyslexia. In my research context, primary
movement therapists, neuro-development therapists, those offering private tuition
and special education provision by the Department of Education and Science, all
offer support for dyslexia. Within the psycho-social model of disability, each of
these specialists potentially becomes a form of social control, which can be
maintained through and for their own interests. In practice this means that each
group defines dyslexia within terms relevant to their own interests, therapy or
programmes. Accordingly, the debate about how best to address dyslexia among
commercial interests such as those of primary movement therapists, neurodevelopment
therapists, and those offering private tuition is hotly contested. Yet in
my personal experience the effects of these expert interventions are erratic in that
there is no way of knowing which, if any, will benefit a specific pupil. Nugent
(2006, p.107-111) also found, when she examined increases in reading,
comprehension and spellings levels following primary movement therapy, neurodevelopment
therapy and private tuition, that there are no statistically significant
differences. Both my own personal experiences and the research above suggest that a
psycho-social model of disability, which is present in my context, makes no
contribution to pupils’ learning.
In conclusion, having looked at how I taught at the beginning of my research and
related it to discourses and literature around specific learning disability, I am
concerned about understandings about the nature of the learning of my pupils on
three counts. These issues are around
1) The capacity of my pupils to think and learn for themselves is ignored.
2) The conditions of learning, where pupils are withdrawn from their classes,
for one-to-one resource teaching, exclude them from their peers.
3) There are no opportunities for my pupils to become aware of or value their
own ways of learning.
57
3.3 Is the worth of the individual evident in my research context?
I now offer two vignettes from my research that show the contrast between my later
forms of practice and earlier forms, as described at the beginning of this chapter.
These vignettes demonstrate my values around pupils and how I facilitated freedoms
for pupils to express their views about their learning.
The first vignette tells how I offered my pupils opportunities for voice because I had
been concerned that their capacities to think and learn for themselves were ignored
in the ways in which I had been teaching. In year one of my research, I decided to
enquire into the pupils’ views on their difficulties, so, at the beginning of one
particular lesson, I asked each of the eight pupils with specific learning disability
(dyslexia), ‘Why do you think that you come to classes with me?’ Each pupil gave
definite answers that varied from ‘I have dyslexia’ to ‘I can’t learn.’ It dawned on
me that I had heard the words ‘I can’t learn’ frequently from children with specific
learning disability (dyslexia). I was concerned about the negativity of their answers.
So I decided to investigate my pupils’ views about how dyslexia affected them in
school. With their permission, I made an audio tape recording of their answers (see
Appendix 2.4c). At the beginning of every year during my research, I asked each
new cohort of eight pupils the same question: ‘How does dyslexia affect you in
school?’ Even in the final year of my data gathering, the pupils’ answers on the tape
recording made disappointing yet enlightening reading. They said,
o I can’t learn spellings
o I can’t learn tables
o I can’t learn Irish. It is hard to read and spell the words.
o I can’t read out loud
o I can’t make sense out of the words in books
o I can’t answer questions about stories
o I can’t do neat writing
o I don’t understand the words in maths
o I can’t do maths ‘cause I mix up the signs
o In history I can’t remember what happens and some of the words are real
hard to spell.
o In geography some of the questions are hard to understand and it is hard to
remember all the different countries.
(March 2003 Pupils’ Reports, original in data archive, see Appendices 2.6b to 2.6.d)
58
Because those children experience failure to learn regularly in school they probably
come to see this as a natural phenomenon. This concept can possibly be explained
within Gramsci’s (1971) ideas that people come to regard the ideological constructs
of their social and political world as natural rather than their realisation of their own
capacity. Both their peers and the educational system position these pupils as
different from the mainstream and consequently as failures. When children with
specific learning disability (dyslexia) are withdrawn from classes for additional
tuition, their peers view those children as failures and different in that those children
are not able to learn like their peers, as shown in the following example. A classmate
of a pupil who was a participating in my research wrote to him:
I thought that you couldn’t learn. You were thick because you went to
Mrs. McDonagh’s.
(20 May 2003, see Appendix 2.7)
Another possible reason for those with specific learning difficulty (dyslexia) to
experience failure as natural is the emphasis that schools place on mathematicallinguistic
abilities in the education system, as Gardner (1993) explains. This
emphasis positions pupils with specific learning disability (dyslexia) at a
disadvantage because their specific difficulties lie mainly within mathematicallinguistic
ways of learning, which are viewed as the most valued ways of knowing in
the contexts of normative curricula.
Barthes (1983) describes how this naturalisation process works in the political world
in that dominant discourses powerfully reinforce social and cultural realities. He
explains that populations are persuaded to acquiesce in their own oppression. I do
not consider it a massive leap from this concept to the situation in my context where
a population of children with specific learning disability (dyslexia) are marginalised
in such ways as to require them to remain oppressed although they have the innate
ability (being of average intelligence) and capacity to change their situation. The
pupils in my research have been persuaded by their experiences of the education
system to acquiesce in a public perception of their own specific learning disabilities.
They did not see their learning as ‘a process both of not knowing and of coming to
59
know’ (McNiff 2002, p.8) but rather as a process of not knowing and of being
incapable of coming to know.
~ Developing an inclusive form of teaching and learning
To counter this situation, I looked for ways to address the issues of (1) giving
opportunities for voice to the learner; (2) placing a value on the learning process
rather than on quantifiable learning content; (3) withdrawal from mainstream
classes. Prior to the research reported in this thesis, I experimented with applying a
strategy to support learning in social settings. This strategy, which is called cooperative
learning (Kirk 1997, 2003 and 2006), has proven useful to those with
learning difficulties within mainstream classes, both in relation to my experiences
and in the research of Kirk. This strategy was inclusive in that the learners were
actively engaged in their learning process. In practice it involved me, as a teacher,
mentoring pupils in the development of skills that contributed to active grouplearning,
such as taking responsibility for questioning, coming to and recording
group decisions, ensuring that all in the group were motivated and took part at their
own level of ability while continually building on known concepts. These skills were
grounded in a constructivist approach to learning (Vygotsky 1978).
The strategy of co-operative learning is inclusive in that both the learning and its
evaluation are achieved in co-operation with other learners. For example, the
research conducted by Kirk (1997, 2003 and 2006) at primary school level in Ireland
found that
By experiencing effective heterogeneous co-operative groups, students
learn to value and respect diversity and the intelligences, perspectives
and strengths of others.
(Kirk 2003, p.29)
Strategies for co-operative learning are cited in Understanding Dyslexia (Ireland,
Department of Education and Science and Northern Ireland, Department of
Education 2004).
60
Despite the beneficial aspects of such strategies, I find that there is epistemological
incongruence in the research about it in the following way. In modifying Johnson
and Johnson’s (1994) model, Kirk (1997) introduces a reward structure based on
Slavin’s research (1991). Slavin (1991) rewards learning achievement observed by
him, while Kirk (1997) rewards observed improvements in social skills. I perceive
that there are conflicting perspectives on knowledge within the work of these
researchers, in that Slavin and Kirk introduce observable measures of procedural
knowledge in order to evaluate processes of learning which involve personal
knowledge (rather than propositional knowledge) being socially created within cooperative
pupil-learning groups. The groups are learning to value personal and
dialogical forms of knowledge creation, while the researchers work within a
propositional perspective of knowledge by establishing product/process tensions in
their evaluation strategies.

Notwithstanding the epistemological questions that I raised about the
epistemological bases of strategies to support co-operative learning, those strategies
involve people talking together about learning. This concept of learning with others
has relevance for my research. It also mirrors Freire’s (1994) ideas on dialogue
towards empowerment.
In practical terms I also intended, in my research, to explain why, although I taught
pupils with specific learning disability (dyslexia) for 2.5 hours on an individual basis
weekly, their learning of curricular subjects did not improve significantly. Given the
advantages of co-operative learning, I queried if the isolation in which my pupils
were expected to learn contributed to their difficulties. I reflected on my previous
personal experiences of teaching those with specific learning disability (dyslexia)
and research in this field.
There is conflicting research evidence around the practice of withdrawal as follows.
The education system is currently structured to provide support in special schools,
special units within mainstream schools, resource classes (until September 2005) and
learning support settings (following September 2005) in accordance with circular
02/05 (Ireland, Department of Education and Science 2005a). My personal
experience was that pupils preferred either withdrawal from mainstream classes or
61
access to special schools. Often pupils explained that their preference for withdrawal
was because ‘I get time out from our main classes’ (Journal 2 November 2001; see
Appendix 2.1e). Other pupils felt that in special schools they were amongst others
with similar difficulties so they were valued as able to learn at their own personal
levels (Journal 22 March 2003; see Appendix 2.1f). These seeming contradictions
are borne out by research about the experiences of pupils. On the one hand those
receiving special provision in collaborative settings are generally happy in school
(Gerber and Popp 1999), and Demchuk (2000) finds that those receiving withdrawal
services sometime felt stigmatised. On the other hand Humphreys and Mullins
(2002) suggest that mainstream settings have a more negative impact on self-concept
than provision in special units connected to mainstream schools. Research into
pupils’ perceptions of various learning support settings appears inconclusive. I
sought however to understand how to create conditions that would support my
pupils’ learning.
~ How I encouraged learning through my teaching
The second research vignette is about how I encouraged learning through my
teaching. During the first three months of my research I realised that pupils with
dyslexia had much to offer each other in terms of how they experienced school. I
timetabled a group session for each cohort on Fridays for one hour. During these
sessions we developed our understandings about dyslexia together, as I now
describe.
I wanted to move pupils away from the negative ‘I can’t do’ feelings that they had
expressed. I decided to focus on what worked for them. I looked for something that
every member of the cohort was good at. After some reflection I realised that they
could all draw well. So I decided to ask them to ‘Draw a picture about what helped
them with their dyslexia’. The picture below was drawn during an hour-long session
where one cohort of pupils and I drew our feelings about specific learning disability
using our personal choices of art media. In these art sessions I gave freedom to my
pupils that enabled them to express themselves with ease in methods that disregarded
their literacy difficulties. The pupils, having been given the opportunity to express
their views, wanted to share their art-work and opinions. With their permission I
62
taped and transcribed their conversations and I have included a part of this transcript
later in this thesis.
Picture 3.1 A pupil’s explanation of going to Resource Class
The text in panel 1 reads: Pupil B says, ‘Full stop. I ha to school I have to going to
school.’ An arrow with the word ‘sky’ points to a black sky. The text in panel 2
reads: Class Teacher says ‘B. go to the resours [resource] teacher.’ Pupil says, ‘At
least I will lern [learn] some thing.’ The text in panel 3 reads: Pupil B says, ‘Hi
teacher.’ Resource teacher says, ‘Hi B.’ The text in panel 4 reads: After School.
Pupil B says, ‘Hep [help] is good. It was not such a bad day.’
Following the pupils’ artwork and discussion about what helped them cope with the
difficulties that they were experiencing in school because of their dyslexia, I asked
myself the following practical questions about the learning of the children:
Do I discuss learning styles with my pupils? Do I suggest a choice of
learning approaches to pupils? Do I allow my pupils to assess their
own work? Do I give pupils opportunities to exhibit their
understanding and to influence others?
(14 March 2002, Journal in data archive, see Appendix 2.1b)
63
In answering these questions through my research, I am demonstrating that I am
rooting my studies in a form of living theory of teaching for learning. My living
theory is different from, though it incorporates, the propositional forms of teaching
for learning that are the dominant ones in my context. I am engaging with
knowledge as personal, and as being created and affirmed in my learning
relationships with others. My questions show that I value individual learners’ ways
of learning by including them in the learning process.
I am also giving the children opportunities to work together and to begin to evaluate
their learning. In taking action to address these issues my research offered an
inclusive practice of learning where knowledge was socially created and affirmed. I
was encouraged in this research aim by the writing of Fleischer (2001) when he
concludes that students ‘who have been disempowered through an institutional act of
labelling can not only find a voice, but can also articulate resistance to labels’
(Fleischer in Hudak and Kiln 2001, p.5). I was further encouraged by McNiff’s and
Whitehead’s suggestion that humans and ‘all organic systems have their own
internal generative capacity to transform themselves into more developed versions of
themselves through learning’ (McNiff and Whitehead 2006, p.33).
~ Developing a living theory of learning to teach from within my practice
In the early stages of my research I had attempted to apply propositional theories of
teaching to my practice unsuccessfully – as I described above in terms of strategies
to support co-operative learning. I was unsuccessful. This represents the third wave
of influence on my research, which was the practical relevance of propositional
theories of teaching to combat specific learning disability.
My lack of success was commensurate with what I understand to be many other
teachers’ attempts to teach in accordance with propositional theories. An example of
this phenomenon in the context of specific learning disability (dyslexia) is the
difficulties teachers experience in trying to provide differentiated content, by which I
mean content that was adapted for pupils with specific learning disability (dyslexia),
within a mainstream class setting. Research indicates that teachers find
64
differentiation very difficult to implement and sustain (Yuen, Westwood and Wong
2004, Fuchs and Fuchs 1999). Yuen, Westwood and Wong (2004) demonstrate the
problematics of applying propositional theories to practice. Their results show that
teachers make relatively few adaptations to meet the learning needs of pupils with
specific learning disability (dyslexia) and rely instead on other pupils in the class to
provide peer assistance (Yuen, Westwood and Wong 2004, p.67). In my research I
am indicating the need to problematise processes and their underpinning
conceptualisations when teaching pupils with specific learning disability (dyslexia).
A key to understanding why this is necessary lies in how the learner is positioned
within propositional theories of teaching for learning. Theories of teaching can act as
lenses through which the learning process is explained. This metaphor of a lens is
significant because one can look through a lens from either side. Often the same
learning incident can be viewed as an example of either behaviourism or
constructivism or even personal knowledge creation, depending on the observer’s
perspective. For example I have described a constructivist theory of learning from an
externalist perspective (Vygotsky 1978 and 1986). It can also be viewed from the
learner’s perspective. From the learner’s perspective it can be explained as the
individual constructing new knowledge by imposing mental frameworks on his/her
own learning in order to make sense of the new learning by building it onto existing
knowledge and mental schemas, as Bredo (1994) explains. In this case its internal
focus is on constructing personal learning and knowledge.
3.4 Do people need to be free to develop themselves in accordance with
their worth?
I have explained my values around learning and around the worth of my pupils, and
I now want to discuss why I believe that it is important to value the individual. My
belief that my pupils and I are valuable humans is informed by the spiritual beliefs
that I hold as a Christian.
As a Roman Catholic I trace my values to Christianity. Some authors, such as
Kohlberg (1984), would hold that being true to religious beliefs could be an
immature response of obedience and fear of punishment. On the other hand my
65
persistence in religious beliefs, which are dictated from a centralised, supposedly
infallible church (such as the Roman Catholic Church), could be presumed to
demonstrate an orientation towards authority and the maintenance of a given social
order for its own sake. However, neither obedience nor compliance influences the
moral commitments, which I am calling my values. I believe that in making a clear
effort to define my moral values and principles, I can show their validity and
application beyond the authority of the church. Accordingly I am claiming that these
values are the embodied values that inform my life and work and towards the
realisation of which I constantly strive. Consequently they have informed my
research topic and aims, and later I show how they inform my methodological
choices and how they also become the living standards by which my research can be
judged (Whitehead 2004a and b).
To begin my explanation of the sources of my values I am quoting the ‘beatitudes’.
The beatitudes are sayings attributed to Christ, after whom Christianity is named.
The eight sayings of Christ represent his vision and are taken from the gospel
according to Matthew, Chapter 5 Verses 3 –10 (Good News Bible 1976). Table 3.2
below takes each of the eight sayings of Christ and relates them to my values to
show how my values inform the core issues and aims of my research. In later
chapters I build on this model to show the relationships of my values to the methods
and claims to new knowledge in my research. Reading across the columns I
synthesise what I believe as a Christian and articulate and explain it as a value. The
next columns correlate my values to the issues and contexts of my research, and to
the aims or visions of my research. Therefore, I understand that Jesus did not give a
blueprint for moral action in the eight ‘beatitudes’, but left us with his vision and
spirit. Similarly in presenting my research as my living theory, I am not giving a
blueprint for how resource teachers can improve the teaching of pupils with specific
learning disability (dyslexia). Instead I am offering my claims in terms of
descriptions and explanations for my practice in the hope that their vision and spirit
will influence others.
66
Table 3.2: Showing the derivation of the values informing my research
Christ says, I, as a Christian
say,
My embodied
values
Research issues Vision – the
aims of my
research
‘Blessed are
the poor in
spirit for
theirs is the
kingdom of
God.’
Verse 3.
‘Have a nonpossessive
attitude towards
life and people
and know my
need of God.’
Freedom – a
capacity for
self
determination
in thought,
speech and
action for the
good of
oneself and
others
Can both I as a
teacher and the
pupils in my
research have
freedom to
voice our own
ways of
knowing within
systems that
value
objective,
outsider
knowledge?
The ability to
explain our
capabilities,
which in the
case of the
pupils are their
abilities to learn
and in my case
(and perhaps
also for my
pupils) to
develop living
theory from
practice.
‘Blessed are
those who
mourn, for
they shall
be
comforted.’
Verse 4.
‘Be touched by
the pain of
others.’
Compassion –
a recognition
of my needs
in others and
others’ needs
in me
Can I recognise
the learned
helplessness of
my pupils and
myself?
Awareness of
how and why
one learns as one
does
‘Blessed are
the gentle
for they
shall inherit
the earth.’
Verse 5.
‘Reflect that
being sensitive is
not a fault.
Counter what is
wrong by doing
good.’
Justice – a
sensitivity to
injustice and a
will to make
changes
towards a
more just
condition
Can I address
marginalisation
caused by
existing
provision and
dominant
propositional
theory?
To have an
educative
influence that
would encourage
others to engage
in more socially
just learning
experiences
‘Blessed are
those who
hunger and
thirst for
righteousne
ss for they
shall be
satisfied.’
Verse 6.
‘Work towards
fairness and
justice.’
Equality – a
capacity for
justice and
fairness in all
human needs.
Questioning
dominant
pedagogies that
generally
promote
behaviouristic
teaching
approaches for
those with
specific
learning
disability
(dyslexia)
Explore the
nature of
relationships
between people,
which foster
knowledge
generation. I am
developing the
kinds of
relationship that
avoid oppression
and domination.
67
Table 3.2: Continued
Christ says, I, as a
Christian say,
My embodied
values
Research
issues
Vision – the
aims of my
research
‘Blessed are
the merciful
for they shall
obtain
mercy.’
Verse 7.
‘Make
allowances
because I don’t
know the whole
story.’
Forgiveness –
commitment to
gaining fuller
understandings.
Fluid reality
No one right
way of
knowing.
To constantly
question my
understandings.
‘Blessed are
the pure in
heart for they
shall see
God.’ Verse
8.
‘Really care.
Let people feel
special.’
Human Dignity
– a recognition
of the capacity
of others and a
demonstration
of care for each
and every
individual I
encounter.
Pupils’
capacities to
learn were
ignored.
A celebration of
the learning
capacities of
pupils with
specific learning
disability
(dyslexia).
‘Blessed are
the
peacemakers,
for they shall
be called
children of
God.’ Verse
9.
‘Build bridges.
Be
approachable to
all.’
Wholeness –
an acceptance
and a
commitment to
the
reconciliation
of a plurality of
approaches to
life; mindful of
the need to
recognise
mind, body and
spirit.
Engage with
issues of how
I come to
know and how
my coming to
know was
informed by
how I helped
my children to
come to
know.
Develop an
epistemologic
al stance
commensurate
with values.
The education of
social
formations.
‘Blessed are
those who
are
persecuted
for
righteousness
sake for
theirs is the
kingdom of
God.’
Verse 10.
‘Do what is
right even it is
not popular.’
Service – act
according to
my values and
be an influence
for the greater
good regardless
of the personal
cost.
Do I live in
the direction
of my values?
Towards
harmony
between practice
and values.
68
3.5 Summary
This chapter incorporates my analysis of learning contexts for pupils with specific
learning (disability) and is supported by a Deweyan (1963) concept of knowledge as
a process in which all parties grow rather than a process for the transmission of
knowledge.
I have shown how I perceive the learner as a living human and explained learning as
an on-going living dialogical and reflective process of not knowing and of coming to
know (McNiff 2002 and Pollard 1997). So the form of theory that will best explain
learning for my pupils with specific learning disability (dyslexia) is a living form of
theory (Whitehead 1989 and 1993). Whitehead explains how living theories involve
researchers in studying their own educational development in the context of their
own workplace as they respond ‘to social pressures made explicit in their critical
analysis’ (Whitehead 1993, p.133).
I have explained how theories of learning need to be reconceptualised from the
learner’s perspective so that learning comes to be seen as a creative exercise in
which the learner becomes an individual knower. In the next chapter I turn to how I
taught pupils and its relevance to my question, ‘How do I improve my teaching of
pupils with specific learning disability who are within my care as a resource teacher
in a primary school?’ I begin by considering pedagogical issues based on the
teaching strategies and commercial programmes that I taught before and during the
early part of my research.
69
CHAPTER FOUR: Pedagogical issues
4.1: Introduction

In the last chapter I described how I taught a lesson to a pupil with specific learning
disability (dyslexia) in the early days of my research. I now want to tell how I taught
over the course of the first term of my research. I question what it was in my practice
of teaching at that time, which prevented my pupils with specific learning disability
(dyslexia) from achieving their potential. This questioning incorporates the fourth
wave of influence on my research. Within this wave, I address the successes and
failures of my teaching as I help others to develop their capabilities. In doing so I
explain how I have generated a living theory about learning to teach pupils with
specific learning disability (dyslexia) as a form of practice-based theorising.
I present data from my work and my pupils’ work as I explain how I have planned
and worked towards fulfilling the recommendations on the pupils’ psychological
reports. I also explain how I began to question what was hindering my pupils’
progress at a systemic level. Did the labelling of these pupils influence how I taught
or how my pupils learned? How did I understand my role as a teacher?
In this chapter I outline some core issues, about pedagogy, knowledge and logic. By
pedagogy I mean how I teach and why I teach as I do. This includes the influences
on my teaching such as my job requirements and the craft knowledge that I have
built up during a period of over twenty years as a teacher. This chapter therefore
contains my explanation of how dominant theories of teaching in my field are
largely defined in the propositional terms of didactic pedagogies for the transmission
of knowledge. This chapter introduces how I shifted the focus of my pedagogy
during the course of my research. While I was working my way through my
questions of ‘What is my concern?’ and ‘Why am I concerned?’ I was encouraging
my pupils to do the same. They too undertook action enquiries, and in this chapter I
give a brief account of what they did.
70
4.2 How I taught pupils with specific learning disability (dyslexia) at the
beginning of my research
The core issues of my research emerged during my reflections on how I taught. As I
said in Chapter One I had been assigned eight pupils with specific learning disability
(dyslexia) per year. I was confident, at that time, in what I intended to teach them.
When I wrote my research proposal for the University of Limerick, who would
accredit my studies, I felt delighted that I had already planned, researched and
resourced a term (three months) of lessons. My plan was to teach all the programmes
recommended for the eight pupils in their psychological reports and show how my
teaching had influenced their learning. I intended to assess those pupils at the
beginning and again at the end of the term. The form of assessment that I used was
standardised tests that mainstream and learning support and resource teachers
commonly used. They were the Schonell Spelling Test (Schonell 1955), the Neale
Analysis of Reading (Neale 1988) for word recognition and the Drumcondra Profiles
(Shiel and Murphy 2000) for writing.
Through the term, I taught the lesson, which I described in Chapter Three, except
that I adjusted the content within the commercial programmes according to each
pupil’s individual abilities whenever they could be measured within the programme
instructions. I repeated this way of teaching for thirty minutes, eight times a day, for
each of my pupils. I have retained all written work connected with these
programmes in my data archive – worksheets, copies, games and computer records
(Appendix 2.6f).
I found this was a very boring way of teaching and, by the end of week one, I had
added in the computer programme ‘Wordshark’ (Wordshark 1995, 1999, 2006) to
the list of commercial programmes I was teaching. This programme was based
directly on Alpha to Omega (Hornsby and Pool 1989), and I could match the games
that each pupil played on the computer to the target content of his or her lesson. The
change that I had just made was not intended to ease my boredom alone because I
felt that my pupils were bored too. So I promised them five minutes of working on
the computer at the end of each lesson as a bribe or, as I told them, ‘as a reward for
working hard’. By week three, I was so frustrated by the monotony of how I was
71
teaching that I decided to give us a ‘day off’ the commercial programmes on
Fridays.

Despite my boredom and frustration the results achieved by my pupils at the end of
the term were chastening. They showed a significant increase in spellings and word
recognition but not in terms of writing (see the example from the first cohort of
pupils below). These results were in keeping with both other cohorts who scored
increases averaging between 133% and 666% in spellings and between 226% and
1466% in word recognition. Despite these increases, the children generally attained
less than one more criterion in writing assessment (Shiel and Murphy 2000).
Table 4.1: Spellings Results
Pupil Chronological age Pre-Intervention
reading age
PostIntervention

reading age
Improvement
After 3 months
1 13 years 1 month 9 years 7 mths 10 years 5mths 10 months
2 12 years 7months 9 years 1 mths 9 years 10mths 9 months
3 12 years 8months 9 years 0 mths 10 years 8mths 1 years 8 mths.
4 10 years 8months 5 years 4 mths 6 years 9 mths 1 years 5 mths
5 11 years 4months 7 years 6 mths 8 years 3 mths 9 months
6 12 years 4months 8 years 3 mths 9 years 2 mths 11 months
7 9 years 7months 7 years 4 mths 7 years mths 4 months
8 11years11months 7 years 9 mths 9 years 0 mths 1 years 3 mths
Table 4.2: Word Recognition Results
Pupil
Chronological age
Pre-Intervention
reading age
PostIntervention

reading age
Improvement
After 3 mnths
1 13 years 1 month 9 years 7 mths 13 years 3 mths 3 years 8 mths
2 12 years 7 months 11years 2mths 13 years 0 mths 1 years 10 mths
3 12 years 8 months 9 years 4 mths 12 years 6 mths 3 years 2 mths
4 10 years 8 months 8 years 6 mths 9 years 2 mths 0 years 8 mths
5 11 years 4 months 9 years 4 mths 10 years 5 mths 1 year 1 mth
6 12 years 4 months 8 years 10mths 10 years 1 mths 1 years 3 mths
7 9 years 7 months 7 years 8 mths 9 years 6 mths 1 years 10 mths
8 11years11 months 9 years 3 mths 10 years 5 mths 1 years 2 mths
~ My reflections on my teaching at the beginning of my research
I did not continue to analyse the pupils’ results statistically, because, as I reflected on
why some of my pupils achieved higher rates of improvement than others, I realised
that these successes and failures were not the core issue. I reflected on what I was
doing and realised that I had ignored the children’s capacity for originality and
72
creativity in this part of my research. I had positioned the children as ‘malleable
beings’ into whom I was attempting to pour knowledge, as in Freire’s banking
model of education (Freire 1970). I can show evidence that I had not related my data
to the values that informed my research in my correspondence with my supervisor
below:
I was wondering if, next year, I would find ways to show if any of my
children had strengths – rather than weaknesses – within these areas. If
so, I might be able to follow in Piaget’s footsteps. His methodology of
‘studying children’s conversations’ ‘often showed children doing and
saying unexpected things, results that other theorists found hard to
assimilate into their models’ (Bee: 2000 p.47). He tried to understand
the child’s thought rather than when they would come up with the right
answer. His approach was at odds with others’ methodologies much as
my methodologies differ from many current action research practices. I
want to find valid ways to study my thoughts as well as the children’s.
Although Piaget’s methods were challenged his observations and
insights were accurate (Bee, 2000 p.47).
(14 April 2002 Correspondence with supervisor, see Appendix 2.3a)
Instead of acting in accordance with the values base of my research, my teaching,
profiling and assessment process involved the normalising of underpinning values of
power and control, which were at odds with my values of respect, equality and
service. In terms of practice, the pupils’ lack of transference of spelling skills to their
general writing limited my children’s written voice and in the future would leave
them at a disadvantage in a world that places a high value on all forms of literacy.
I was disappointed that my teaching positioned me as one who facilitated
information and skill transmission and my pupils as un-thinking, almost passive
recipients. By basing the content of my teaching on the programmes I show that I
was constraining both my potential and that of my pupils. The content of each of
these commercial programmes presented a fragmented skills-based view of
knowledge. For example PAT is based on a phonological approach where the
blending of onset and rime together create isolated words that are then used for
writing and reading and finally the transference of this skill is checked with dictation
passages. Alpha to Omega contains a structured, developmental and multisensory
format towards reading.
73
I realised that I was adopting a behaviourist teaching approach. By this I mean that I
identified a learning need, measured a pupil’s level of competence, applied a remedy
using those intervention strategies above, measured the effectiveness of the strategy
and rewarded progress (Conway 2002, p.72). This research method was at odds with
the aims of my research, with the values base of my research and with the
epistemological stance I espoused. The reason that I used this method was that it was
the teaching strategy recommended by the manuals of the programmes I was
teaching.
In addition, the processes of assessment that I had incorporated into the profiles
above led me to realise that I was denying the capacities of my pupils as well as
controlling my pupils’ learning. This was a direct contradiction of what I had set out
to do. I have said that I wanted to create opportunities for the children in my research
to exercise their own capacity for choice. Instead I had tried to show accountability
in my teaching in terms of pupils’ achievements and in doing so had constructed a
pedagogy that was grounded in power and subjectivity. This could be construed as
reminiscent of Foucault’s explanations of objectifying processes of ‘control and
dependence’ that caused humans to become subjects (Foucault 1980, p.212, cited in
Smart, 2002).
I was disturbed that I had become a living contradiction (Whitehead 1989) within
my research. On one level, my research methodology, in the interests of
accountability, meant that I had adopted an objective stance towards knowledge and
learning. On the other hand, I had realised that the accountability of my self-study
action research methodology required me constantly to reflect on and evaluate my
actions in relation to the values that inform them. I was experiencing myself as a
living contradiction (Whitehead 1989) because I had not achieved the values that I
had set as standards of judgement for my work.
I further analysed what I had done in terms of the epistemological base of my
research and current understandings of what counts as educational knowledge in the
field. The propositional, objective and outsider form of educational knowledge that
informed the testing, described in this section, established a culture of silence, as
Devine (2003) described it, for the learner to dwell in. My children were being
74
placed within a structure of knowledge that made them ‘beings for others’. To
address this non-integration of participants into normative structures, Freire (1970)
proposed the transformation of those structures so that they – children with specific
learning disability in my case – can become ‘beings for themselves’. This idea is in
line with my values of respect and service.
~ My discovery about my assessment of my teaching and what I planned to do
about it
I had found that the underpinning educational values I espoused were denied in the
assessment processes I had devised. I therefore rejected standardised testing as a
measure of my teaching because, in utilising a banking concept of education, the
capabilities of the individual were ignored. I recognised that assessment featuring
standardised testing can have a useful function in the financial administration and
provision of education. However my emergent ideas sought to focus on capabilities
already shown to be within my children and recognised in the primary schools’
curriculum aims (Ireland Department of Education and Science 1999b). In doing so I
have come to agree with Whitehead’s (1993) understanding that,
For educational theory to be directly related to educational practice it
must have the power to explain an individual’s development.
(Whitehead 1993, p.54)
I came to the harrowing realisation that an authoritarian teacher/pupil relationship
existed in the forms of teaching assessment I used, because it was grounded in a
logic of domination (Marcuse 1964).
To counter this, I devised an approach for my Friday lessons, which aimed to move
towards the realisation of my epistemological and ontological values. It also
highlighted some of the systemic difficulties experienced by my pupils and myself.
75
4.3 Systemic constraints that prevent the realisation of my potential and
my pupils’ potential
Many of the programmes that I was using during the first four days of my week
claimed a multisensory approach to teaching and learning. The Simultaneous Oral
Spelling (SOS) method of learning spellings is recommended as a multisensory
approach to teaching spellings. It is a practical method that is described differently
by different authors. So on Fridays I decided that I would use this approach to teach
spellings but I adapted it to ensure a pupil-centred way of learning that incorporated
the senses of hearing, sight, touch and speech in their learning. This is how I taught.
My pupils’ class teachers set spellings for them from class texts, or from errors that
the pupils regularly made in their written work or from a list of the most commonly
written words (Dolch List). I said the word, for example, ‘atmosphere’. The pupil
repeated it. I asked them to listen for the syllables. Six of my eight pupils could
separate the word into syllables easily. Pupil C tapped her pencil on the table as she
said the word until she matched what she said to three syllables. Pupil F could not
hear syllables. So I gave him a small mirror. He watched the mirror as he said the
word. I explained to him, over the course of a few weeks and with many examples
and practice sessions, that each syllable contains a vowel and that when we speak a
vowel the sound travels from our mouths unhindered by tongue, teeth or lips so that
we open our mouths when we say a vowel. So when he looked in the mirror and said
‘atmosphere’ slowly and with accentuation, he could see his mouth opening slightly
for each syllable. My visual approach to ‘hearing’ syllables was based on the
Multisensory Teaching System of Reading (Johnson et al. 1999, see Appendix 4.1).
So I taught spellings by asking pupils to count the syllables and then attempt to write
what they heard on a white board. I wrote the correct version of the word under
theirs and invited them to look at their attempt. I complimented them on the parts
they had correct or approximately correct. They adjusted their spelling and then
wrote the word correctly saying each letter sound orally simultaneously with the
writing of it, as in the example below.
At ms fear
At mos phere
atmosphere
76
They repeated this exercise at least five times using different coloured pencils for
each syllable to help their visual memory and then in a sand tray to help their tactile
memory. Finally they wrote the word correctly with their eyes closed. This unusual
strategy demonstrates that a degree of motor memory and automaticity in spelling
that word has been achieved.
Reflecting on my teaching of spellings, I was happy, at that time, that I was using an
appropriate teaching strategy. Unfortunately the strategy, although suitable for a
resource setting, did not easily transfer to a mainstream setting. By using this
teaching strategy I was reinforcing the idea that pupils with specific learning
disability (dyslexia) were deficient, in that more senses needed to be engaged for
them to learn. The pupils whom I was teaching in this way were also constantly
reinforced in the belief that there was something wrong with them in that they could
not learn as other mainstream pupils did.
~ The influence of labelling pupils with a specific learning disability (dyslexia)
on my teaching
The multisensory teaching strategy that I used confirmed publicly that the pupils
with specific learning disability (dyslexia) whom I taught, were different from what
is regarded as the norm because they were being taught differently. This was one of
three things that concerned me about my pedagogy. The second was that I was
teaching all pupils with specific learning disability in the same way, thereby teaching
them all to learn in the same way. This did not demonstrate the value that I have
claimed in previous chapters of valuing the individual. My third concern about how I
taught at that time was that I had chosen a multisensory teaching strategy simply
because these pupils had the label of specific learning disability (dyslexia) and it was
a strategy often recommended for pupils assigned resource teaching for that
disability. My choice was dictated by the label rather than by the pupils’ needs.
Because I was teaching my pupils as a homogeneous group, my model of teaching
spellings was similar to the systemic model used to identify and categorise which
pupils with specific learning disability (dyslexia) are to receive resource-teaching
77
allocation. That form of testing references pupils’ abilities against norms achieved
by similar-aged peers on specific standardised tests in word recognition, spelling,
comprehension and mathematics. I was referencing my teaching of one pupil against
a norm that I had established for all pupils with specific learning disability
(dyslexia). Yet the most developed abilities of these children may lie in other key
areas, such as intra- and interpersonal skills, innovative problem solving, music and
the visual arts. These other areas were being ignored.
Both my model and the systemic model could influence how pupils felt about their
learning. Pupils can feel that they are good learners or not good learners depending
on how often I make them repeat the writing of a word or how they score on
standardised tests. These feelings can develop into a learning identity in which the
pupil views him or herself as a capable learner or not. These different perceptions or
identities can be influenced by norm-referenced testing because those who fall
within the average norms on standardised testing are reinforced and confirmed as
acceptable humans. Bourdieu and Passeron (1977) speak of this idea where a social
context reinforces a norm and becomes a construct of social reproduction. Sullivan
(2005) describes how this happens in the education of traveller children in Ireland
and describes their marginalisation within schools as social reproduction because
schools,

affirm[s] the identity of those belonging to the social group whose
interests are best served by the school system
(Sullivan 2005, p.1)
By falling outside the average norms on standardised testing, pupils with specific
learning disability (dyslexia) are similarly ‘not best served by the system.’ I was
exploring how the norms used to label children as having a specific learning
difficulty can be seen as social constructs that are politically constituted in order to
rank pupils for the purpose of allocating extra teaching provision. I intended to
scrutinise and challenge the effects of these constructs in my research because, as I
perceive it, the learning identities of children with specific learning disability
(dyslexia) – by which I mean their belief in their own capabilities to learn – are
78
confirmed and reinforced by their label of disability. This brings me to my third
concern.
I have also observed that pupils who are labelled as learning disabled often adopt the
characteristics of this label and perceive themselves as disabled in all areas of
learning. There were two examples of this idea in the previous chapter when I noted
how participating pupils commented that they ‘can’t learn’ many subjects in school
and when their peers viewed them as less able because they received resource
teaching. As Apple says, ‘labels [too] often function to confer a lesser status on
those labelled’ (Apple 2001, p. 261). In my experience pupils often generalise their
label of learning disability to all areas of their learning because no one informs them
that they are able to learn in areas not affected by their specific learning disability
(dyslexia). This can cause a diminishing of pupils’ self-esteem, as reported by Dillon
(2001). In this way pupils can potentially become disabled by the interactions
between themselves and their environment. I described this concept earlier as an
educational model of disability (Ware 2003), where structures, curricula or
institutions adopt a position of power over students that can have a disabling effect
on the individuals. An educational model of disability can deny children the freedom
to construct their own identities as capable learners because it contributes to the
children’s perception of themselves as learning disabled. This identity is further
reinforced daily when the children are withdrawn from their classes for extra tuition
from myself or other resource teachers. My concern is that when my pupils’ learning
identities are defined in such ways, there can be a denial of their personal rights as
well as a denial of their own self-identification because, as Giroux (2000) states,
Education is political in that identities are forged and rights are enacted.
(Giroux 2000, p.25)
I am concerned that labelling can reproduce situations, leading pupils to remain
learning disabled. I want to help them forge alternative identities. Like Giroux, I am
convinced that the political power of education means that there is the possibility of
changing the current situation.
79
I aimed to develop a form of teaching that enabled pupils to transform their learned
perceptions of their learning identities. To achieve this aim I consulted the literature
on the labelling of specific learning disability. According to international research,
the labelling of pupils to access services has had a variety of results. In many
countries pupils are ranked, and the provision of special services is dependent on a
label, statement, certificate or admission procedure. Meijer, Pijl and Hegarty (1995)
find that in most cases the result is that pupils are segregated in some way. This
further confirms normative understandings that the pupils are deviant or ‘special’. In
Denmark however, the situation is more fluid,
where special services are provided – and discontinued – relatively
easily and so many students receive these services, that the label is of
less significance.
(Meijer, Pijl and Hegarty 1995, p. 122)
Accordingly, students in Denmark begin to fit into normative expectations. In my
research I aimed to develop a situation where the label becomes less significant,
thereby separating the person from the label.
~ The relevance of recent research into the teaching of pupils with specific
learning disability (dyslexia) to my study
So far, I had based my understanding of my pupils’ needs on psychologists’ reports.
I had taught them using behaviourist methods, and the content of my teaching had
been commercially produced programmes or multisensory methods, which are
recommended for those with specific learning disability (dyslexia). I had adopted a
propositional stance to my children and my teaching in my research so far.
Before deciding how to address the issues that had arisen in how and what I teach, I
considered other recent research into the teaching of pupils with specific learning
disability (dyslexia).
Some researchers who have investigated specific learning disability (dyslexia) use
propositional forms of research because these forms lend themselves to statistical
analysis, which generally informs policy and provision. An example of this is the
work of Atkins and Tierney (2004), which measured the relationship between visual
80
and auditory sequential memory skills and the reading and spelling of pupils with
specific learning difficulties. They found that deficits in auditory memory skills are
related to deficits in reading, and they therefore recommend programmes in this skill
area for pupils at risk. The research is about measurements, deficits and prescription.
However, in this form of research the voice of the learner – the person who should
be at the heart of education – can be silenced. This form of research explains
pedagogy in terms of the facilitation of knowledge transfer, where knowledge is
understood as reifiable. This was the approach that I had adopted up until now. I had
ignored the voices of my pupils about how they learned. My voice and the voices of
my pupils were silenced.
Most of the forms of research into specific learning disability (dyslexia) adopt a
propositional stance, which is usually presented in an abstract form of language. This
is the case in the following research collections:
o Snowling (2000) into cognitive psychology and a biological basis for
dyslexia;
o Thomson (2001) into neuropsychological aspects of dyslexia;
o Reid (2003a) into assessment, programmes and resources.
By holding solely to propositional theory as an abstract and conceptual phenomenon
the voices of the participants are silenced. The research can therefore become
irrelevant to research participants and the live contexts in which the research took
place. This form of theory focuses on analysis, explanation and prediction, rather
than focusing on those being taught. Theory is communicated as
a set of propositions that are stated with sufficient generality yet
precision that they can explain the ‘behaviour’ of a range of
phenomena and predict what would happen in the future.
(Pring 2000, pp.124 – 125)
Research on pedagogy often works within a causal or propositional form of logic
and is framed in terms of the questions to which concrete and fixed answers are
given. Examples of this can be seen in the writings of Mortimore (1999) who
summarises current research about pedagogy at primary, secondary and tertiary
levels of education, and in Wray (1994) who summarised research into
81
comprehension for those with learning difficulties. They, like many other researchers
in the field of specific learning disability (dyslexia), use a logic of cause and effect to
compare the relative effectiveness of different interventions for dyslexia that are
similar in intensity and duration ‘just as when trialing a drug it is important to test its
effects in relation to a placebo treatment’ (Snowling 2000, p.178).
My pupils’ voices have often been absent in the teaching episodes I have described. I
do not want to leave their voices out of my research because I perceive this to be
unjust, in that it ignores the thinking capabilities and creativity of all involved in the
research, except the researcher. The ideas of the research participants are generally
written out of this form of theory. Some could argue that this form of theorising is
relevant to the live contexts in which research takes place because it may influence
policy making. I would, however, contend that this form of research is unjust on two
counts. First, it prioritises phenomena over people and second, its focus on
prediction can deny the freedom of choice of the participants to self-determination.
To address this dilemma I have sought a different form of theory. I have come to
understand that there are two distinct perspectives on theory within the literature:
first, a view of theory as a discrete body of knowledge that can be applied to practice
(Popper 1963; Pring 2000); second, a view of practice as theory. This form of theory
is generated from studying one’s own practice (McNiff and Whitehead 2006) and is
new in the field of learning disability (dyslexia).
In the remainder of this chapter I draw on episodes from my research to show how
my pupils’ voices and my voice became part of my teaching and research. I then
reflect on how changes in my practice can relate to forms of theory.
In my research, I aimed to link my philosophy of valuing the individual and their
capacity to learn to a form of pedagogy that could demonstrate the valuing of the
individual and their capacities. To begin this process I tried to redress possible power
issues in the relationships between my pupils and myself that, as I have said, were
already present in how I taught and assessed my pupils. An example of this was my
invitation (see below) to my pupils to participate in my research.
82
Hi K,
I am trying to be a better teacher and I hope you will learn what is the
best way for you to learn.
Can I use your ideas to make our lessons better?
Can I tell other children and teachers about our work together?
Thank you
Mrs Mc Donagh
My wording ‘I am trying to be a better teacher’ and ‘Can I use your ideas’ surprised
me, because it came from the heart, was sincere and was not couched in academic
language. I was asking for my pupils’ help. I was offering an opportunity to the
pupils whom I taught that could free them to critique their situation and no longer
remain as passive objects within a system that denies their capabilities. My
ontological values of compassion, freedom, justice, equality and human dignity were
present in those words and my wish to serve others informed my request to share
with children and teachers.
Other examples of how wording can act as indicators of the core epistemological
values on which I based changes in my teaching during my research, were the
individual learning plans that I wrote for my pupils in the early (2001) and latter part
of my research (2003). The full texts of both these examples are in Appendices 6.2
and 6.3. I have said in Chapter Two that in 2001 the teaching strategies I used were
‘teacher modelling and practice’. I described what this looked like in the lesson in
Chapter Three. In 2003 my individual learning plan read as follows:
Table 4.3: Extract from an individual learning plan 2003 (see Appendix 6.3)
Learning Target
Pupil, having identified his personal learning style for spellings, will read and spell 20 words
from the common list
Teaching Strategies
Pupil composes higher and lower order questions on text. Discussion of learning
strategies, metacognition
Materials/Resource
Class texts, common word list

83
Instead of taking learning targets directly from commercial programmes as I had in
2001, I now expected my pupil to identify his or her own personal learning style for
spellings. My teaching strategies included discussing learning strategies and the
pupil composing questions. I had written the pupil’s voice into this document –
voices that had been absent previously. I was also introducing a practice of
metacognition. I will show later the specific meaning of metacognition in my
teaching but basically it meant awareness of what and how one learned. I had
changed the focus of the individual learning plans since 2001 and now, in my new
approach, the focus was on the pupils’ understanding of themselves as the person
taking action.
This was a large leap. At times it took courage and an almost blind faith in the pupils
I taught. To support my belief that it was possible, I drew on my Christian values
and on the work of, for example, Arendt (1968, p.167), who speaks of the natality of
the individual. This idea emphasises the concept that each person is precious by
virtue of being born. Coulter and Wiens (2002, p.17) offers a further perspective that
has relevance for my research in that they explain different research paradigms in
terms of actors and spectators. I understand their explanation of spectators as
interpretive researchers who observe, interpret and judge the actions of the actors
being researched. Their work however supports opportunities to link the actor and
spectator perspectives in research without privileging either within two activities.
This involves participants and researcher acting and thinking together. It has direct
links to my approach of placing pupils with specific learning disability (dyslexia) as
co-researchers – a process which I began with the invitation (above) to my pupils to
participate in my research. This invitation marked the beginning of this partnership,
which I will describe in the next section.
In her work Arendt refuses to adopt the role of a judging actor and instead engages
with her fellow citizens despite the opprobrium of friends (Bernstein 1996, p.158).
She grounds her work in the idea of freedom as responsibility (Coulter and Weins
2002, p.17). My research is also values driven in that I have shown above that I want
to move from a system that constrains my learning and my pupils’ potential learning
to a system that values each of us, as I have demonstrated in the permission letter
above and in Table 3.2. I will show in Part Three of this thesis that these values can
84
be understood as transforming into my living standards of practice (Whitehead
2004a). But first I will consider issues arising from my teaching and move from the
more general questions of knowledge and theory in existing research to analysing
my own pedagogy and how I aimed to change it.
4.4 How I proposed to challenge the issues arising in my teaching
My research took an unexpected turn. This was partly due to my reflections on my
teaching and on my pupils’ learning, but also because unexpectedly some grateful
and resourceful parents fundraised for the pupils with special needs in my school.
The support teachers (including me), school management and parents therefore
decided to install a kitchen in one of the resource classrooms. We hoped to develop
our pupils’ life skills and involve them in practical mathematics around money,
shopping and ingredient measurement as well as practical English such as label and
recipe reading. In order to facilitate this, a one and a half hour cookery lesson
replaced individual lessons on Friday. As our school had more than one support
teacher we took turns to take classes in the kitchen. I decided to take a group of eight
pupils with specific learning disability for one and a half hours each Friday when we
were not in the kitchen. The photographs below show the co-operative learning
atmosphere in the cookery class, where reading, comprehension and some writing
happen, with direct teaching by me.
Pupils enjoyed sharing what they knew and the different skills they had. Some could
read better, some had better motor skills and could chop, stir and whip cream better
Pictures 4.1 and 4.2: Cookery Class
85
than others. In Picture 4.1 Pupil F has a hand written recipe. He and Pupil J are
reading the recipe, unaided by me, and instructing Pupil B. As he works, Pupil B
uestions the others to check that his ingredient amounts and method are correct. In
e
a similar way, my group lesson also became a co-operative learning session in
the followings ways. We all sat informally a
working in pairs and occasionally alone.
ile I, with my
ack to her and sitting in a pupil’s
chair, am chatting with another pupil.
(See Appendix 2.4i)
oved scores in spellings. They found that they
ould then select which strategy was the most effective for them in learning spellings
q
picture 4.2 Pupil B is now reading. Pupil K is whisking and checking that sh
understands the instructions with Pupil B. Pupil R is adding to the mix.
In
round the room in a circle, at times
This photo shows a pupil working at
the teacher’s desk wh
b
Picture 4.3: Pupil working as teacher
One of the amazing events that happened during these hourly sessions was that my
pupils began to conduct their own individual action research projects into how they
learned spellings. I had failed to improve my pupils’ levels of writing with correct
spellings when I used commercial programmes or a multisensory approach. I told
my pupils about my concerns and asked them to tell me how each of them learned
spellings. I will describe how this happened in detail in chapter eight. But for now I
will say that the important event was that the pupils themselves suggested trying
each other’s way of learning to see if they could improve their spellings scores. This
developed into individual action research projects where, by involving others, each
pupil aimed to improve his or her spellings. Their mainstream class teachers set
spellings for them. They chose to learn those spellings by using three strategies for
learning spellings that they had heard from their peers who had dyslexia in my
Friday classes and that they had not used previously. They practised each strategy
for one month and recorded any impr
c
86
by comparing their scores over the three months. I give further information about my
pupils’ action enquiries in Part Four.
So what is the relationship between the new learning that was happening in my
Friday morning classes and the types of Individual Educational Plans that I referred
bove (see a fuller version of them in Appendices 6.2 and 6.3)? The changes that I
earning support teachers who teach pupils falling
elow class levels in Maths and English and resource teachers who teach pupils with
ecified disabilities or syndromes, imply that resource teachers deal with a less able
to a
adopted in my teaching approaches in the Individual Educational Plans from 2001 to
2003 were in part due to the pupils’ action research projects about their spellings.

The Individual Educational Plans that I composed for each pupil whom I taught in
2001 were a practical example of the forms of knowledge that informed my teaching
at the beginning of my research. Although these documents were a job requirement,
the wording in them was mine and it indicated that I was working within a
propositional form of thinking at that time. As a teacher/researcher, like other
teachers engaged in special education, I am confined by Government
recommendations and publications, which impact on how I teach my pupils. Circular
08/02 (Ireland, Department of Education and Science 2002a) required me to set
‘specific time-related targets for each child and agree these with the class teacher and
principal’ and engage in ‘assessing and recording the child’s needs and progress’
(Ireland, Department of Education and Science 2002a). I was confined in a web of
efficiency-focused, productivity raising techniques and documentation. The logic of
cause and effect informs these processes of accountability in teaching. However, by
spending so much time in documenting and accounting for my teaching there is little
opportunity for critical engagement with the theories of teaching and learning
themselves. Within the system of primary education in Ireland, the confining
requirements that I described above increase in direct ratio to the severity of the
difficulties experienced by pupils. Evidence of this can be seen in the differing job
requirement of learning support teachers (Ireland, Department of Education and
Science 2000) and resource teachers (Ireland, Department of Education and Science
2002a). The distinction between l
b
sp
section of the school population.
87
I felt that these job requirements diminished my freedom in terms of innovation,
spontaneity and immediate response to pupils’ daily learning. The systems of
ccountability also establish the identity of the learner as subject to the system and to
of
ersonal knowledge as the personal involvement of the knower in all acts of
a
the teacher. For me, as a teacher, they establish my identity as an object in a reified
system. In both instances the human is devalued while ‘the system’ is valued.
Political influences on my specific teaching context, during the past twelve years, are
seen in documents such as the Report of the Special Education Review Committee
(Ireland, Department of Education 1993); the Department of Education and Science
Circulars such as 9/99 (Ireland, Department of Education and Science 1999a), 08/02
(Ireland, Department of Education 2002a) and 02/05 (Ireland, Department of
Education and Science 2005a); and the report of The Task Force on Dyslexia
(Ireland, Department of Education and Science 2002b) and Understanding Dyslexia
(Ireland, Department of Education and Science and Northern Ireland, Department of
Education 2004). The final two documents in particular articulate a shift in emphasis
from a technical rational approach towards ideals of valuing the individual and
personal knowledge within a framework of inclusiveness and ongoing learning (Day
2003; Reid 2003b). Examples of these forms of knowing would be intuition,
experiential knowledge and personal knowledge. Polanyi (1958) explains this idea
p
understanding. The intuitive and personal knowledge of pupils did not feature in my
individual education plans for my pupils prior to 2001 nor in the lessons I taught.
In addition to a shift in forms of knowledge these documents refer to ideas of
inclusion, which was an important ingredient of the Friday morning classes that I
described at the beginning of this section. This was the inclusion of children with
specific learning disability (dyslexia) and other learning difficulties in the
mainstream classrooms. However it is assumed that participation in mainstream
classrooms of pupils with specific learning disability (dyslexia) happens by the
assimilation of the pupil in terms of adapting current curricula, learning contexts or
teaching methodologies. The overarching concept of all three aspects is a focus on
making the pupil fit into the system through differentiation. Therefore the rhetoric of
the inclusive aspirations of The Task Force Report on Dyslexia (Ireland, Department
88
of Education and Science 2002b) and Understanding Dyslexia (Ireland, Department
of Education and Science and Northern Ireland, Department of Education 2004)
oes not yet live either at a systemic level or classroom practice level in schools
pellings – a personal perspective – which can enable others to make choices
bout their own lives, and make claims based on embodied values which can
preparation for this I now consider four pedagogical issues in my context that I
have high h
teaching are n
cal context support
o ssues of identity
d
generally, in terms of enabling pupils to take some control over their own learning
processes.
I wanted the rhetoric of these documents to live in my classes and I questioned what
appeared to me to be an acceptance of propositional forms of knowledge. I did so
because the dominance of propositional knowledge prevented critical engagement
with issues of pedagogy and on-going learning. I therefore encouraged critical
engagement by my pupils with their own learning when I facilitated their action
research projects about how they learned spellings. My critical engagement with
pedagogy was reflected in the new approaches to teaching that I included in the
sample Individual Educational Plans from 2003. The targets that I set embraced
personal learning and personal awareness of how my pupils themselves learned. This
is in contrast to the messages communicated by refereed publications within the field
of special education and specific learning disability (dyslexia), which are generally
confined to technical rational forms of knowledge, because that is what dominant
voices in the contemporary culture value (Winter 2002). In discussing my research
in later chapters I describe my pupils’ action research projects about how they
learned s
a
transform into living standards of practice and judgement (Whitehead 1989 and
2004a).
In
lig ted above and that I propose to address. These issues that inform my
amely;
o Different forms of knowledge in my pedagogi
different forms of theory
The logic in which I base my research – i
o My understanding of social justice in my context
89
o Propositional forms of theory do not encourage critical engagement
this chapter I articulate the underpinning assumptions of the value
Different forms of knowledge in my pedagogical context support different
form
In m e extracts from Individual
Educa
’ and the ‘logic of the market place’, as McLaren
995) called it, where the language of productivity, targets, goals, and outcome
tional epistemological stance has power over
teachers in that it must be accepted as part of a teacher’s employment contract. The
powe ties of
the te it. Consequently, I began to perceive myself as one of
(Giroux 2000, p.91)
with pedagogical issues in my context.
In the final part of
base of my research.
~
s of theory
y professional practice, as I have shown in th
tional Plans above, I am required to set
Specific, time-related targets for each child and agree these with the
class teacher and principal
(Ireland, Department of Education and Science 2002a, p.8)
The idea of target setting is grounded in theories from a business model of
education, ‘the predatory culture
(1
percentage improvements have become commonplace. Its values are product-based
where children are perceived as consumers first and human beings second and I am
positioned as a service provider.
Through engaging in this research, I am developing awareness of the power that the
institution of the Department of Education and Science has on my views of
knowledge and learning. The institu
r of traditional institutional epistemology can therefore deny the capaci
achers who are subject to
those teachers referred to by Giroux:
teachers become arid communities, shorn of capacities to use their own
ideas, judgements and initiatives in matters of importance, and can’t
teach kids to do so.
90
To address this position of impotence, I considered what my teaching was really
about and the systemic constraints on it.
I see pedagogy as having two faces. These faces are similar to McNiff’’s (2002)
visions of the conflicting contemporary debates around knowledge in higher
education that exist within ‘discourses of competition and alienation’ (McNiff 2002,
.2). The first face is that pedagogy is the management of the delivery of knowledge.
cit or
xplicit. When I teach in ways that help to make a latent fund of personal knowledge
p
The second face of pedagogy is the making explicit of the latent fund of personal
knowledge in order to encourage on-going learning. ‘Hidden processes transform
into explicit ones in life-affirming ways and these emerge as the properties of living’
(McNiff 2002, p.3).
Linguistic explanations of pedagogy, like those above, do not help me to understand
or account for how I have changed my teaching during the course of my research.
The personal and craft knowledge that I bring to my work from years of experience
of teaching pupils with specific learning disability (dyslexia) enables me to make
split-second decisions without reference to a manual on teaching methodologies,
subject content or theories of learning. For example, when my pupils themselves
suggested trying each other’s way of learning to see if they could improve their
spellings scores, I immediately found ways to support their action research projects
into how they learned spellings such as audio-taping and transcribing their individual
learning strategies. Polanyi (1958) describes this form of practice as grounded in
personal knowledge. He states how we know more than we can say because our vast
amount of personal knowledge comes from small amounts of successful learning
that we experience over a period of time, which he terms ‘little victories’ (Polanyi
1958, p.377). Because these ‘little victories’ are personal experiences they cannot
easily be subjected to outsider measurement. Personal learning may be ta
e
explicit, as facilitating my pupils to make their personal strategies for learning
spellings known to their peers, I am engaging with the second face of pedagogy.
This second face of pedagogy also permeates the ways in which I developed my
theory of justice in teaching pupils with specific learning disability (dyslexia).
91
This form of personal knowledge is contrary to the dominant procedural and
propositional forms of knowledge required by specific time-related targets. In my
context, when theory is taken to mean a body of knowledge that can be applied to
practice, as happened when I used the commercial resources for dyslexia, the teacher
is alienated and devalued because personal and craft knowledge are ignored.
However where the researcher is studying and theorising her own practice, as I am,
the opposite pertains. For me this is a more just form of theory because respect is
afforded to the individual, as shown in the example in Picture 4.3 above, where a
pupil is sitting and working at the desk and swivel chair assigned to her teacher (me).
he focus of my research is to do with transforming an unsatisfactory situation – in
learning spellings.
d to engage with epistemological issues
aims that things either are or are not, thus ignoring the problematic middle
round. I am no longer accepting dominant ideas that there is one correct way of
T
which the capacities of the children in my research to think for themselves, and my
own capacities, are denied – into a more satisfactory situation where their capacities
are recognised and celebrated. One example of how I showed respect for my pupils’
individual capacities to learn occurred when I facilitated their wish to investigate
their personal ways of
To achieve these research goals I neede
because, as a resource teacher, I have been required to subscribe to a form of theory
that is grounded in the idea of a specific truth which, I contend, bears little
resemblance to the realities of my experiences as a teacher of pupils with specific
learning disabilities.
~The logic in which I base my research
In raising questions about ‘How do I improve my teaching of my pupils with
specific learning disability (dyslexia)?’ I am challenging traditional forms of theory
by being open to creative and individual ways of thinking. Being open to impulse
and imaginative, personal thinking is a challenge to the dominant propositional
forms of logic that hold tight to one way of knowing and support the idea of
pedagogy as a model for knowledge transmission. I am rejecting Aristotelian logic,
which cl
g
thinking about teaching and learning for those with specific learning disability
(dyslexia) because this raises issues of power and control where I as a teacher am
positioned as the only potential knower in the classroom. I agree with Foucault
92
(1979 and 1980; see Rabinow 1984 and McNay 1994) who states that knowledge is
power.
The grounds for this ontological stance are that I see all humans as knowers. Some
of the implications of my stance are that power can no longer be held solely by me
as the supposed ‘knower’ in the classroom. An example of this change can be seen
in the learning targets in the sample Individual Educational Plan for 2003 that I have
given earlier in this chapter where the pupil identifies his or her personal learning
style for spellings and discusses learning strategies. I must also facilitate all the
people in my research – pupils, teachers and research colleagues – to exercise their
power and creative imaginations. I have already given an example of this when, in
hapter Two, my pupils tested the new personal knowledge they had generated. Just
roach for pupils because they are
ositioned as participants in the research process rather than as objects of research. I
C
as my pupils tested each other’s learning strategies during their action research
spelling projects, I too test my new understandings against the critique of the others
in my research. I appreciate that my developing new knowledge cannot be imposed
on others but instead I must find ways of invitationally influencing others, as I
showed in the invitation to pupils to join my research.
I am constantly testing my own developing thinking. This self-questioning is
obvious in the many questions I have raised throughout this thesis. In addressing
these questions I am exercising my own voice in a similar way to that of my pupils
when they suggested trying each other’s strategies for learning spellings. I am
creating an opportunity for my pupils and myself to exercise our questioning voices
within our context. In doing so I will be drawing on the ideas of Winter (2002,
p.147) who wrote about ‘celebrating the ultimate reality of the individual’s
“possession” of their “own” voice’ in research’. I am also engaging in a selfquestioning
of my pedagogy and practice, as occurs in self-study action research (see
McGinley 2000; Marion Nugent 2000; Roche 2000). These teacher-researchers who
engage in this form of research, make explicit the implicit ways in which teaching
and learning happens as they engage with a transformative process of development
(McNiff and Whitehead 2005). This openness to change embraces a philosophy that
is generated from the contradictions within practice. I believe that research within
this philosophical framework offers a more just app
p
93
am studying what I am concerned about in my practice and why I am concerned, and
my pupils are concurrently conducting their own action research. They are, as it
were, ‘the play within the play’ as Shakespeare said, in that they are researching
within my research and I am researching alongside their research. Our separate and
collective research projects are inextricably linked.
My reflections, in the form of questions, can be seen not only in the questions I am
asking myself throughout this text but also in the extracts from my reflective journal
and the thought bubbles in Part Three. This logic of constant questioning, reflection
and re-questioning pertains in my study of my practice in order to generate theory
from within it. Just as a logic of analysis or cause and effect can underpin a
philosophy which positions theory as a body of knowledge to be applied to the
practice; so I too am explaining the logic which underpins my work. I am attempting
to present my new thinking and changes in my reality as a teacher within a form of
gic that is believable. In my research I am also concerned with how my pupils
ities for critical thinking and learning and its resultant influence
t in the previous section.
~Issu
Befor identities
e to an understanding of how identities are formed –
lo
expand their capabil
on their lives. The freedom for children with specific learning difficulties (dyslexia)
to forge their personal identities as learners is central to my research. The values of
freedom and respect for the individual underpin the form of logic of my research and
can contribute to a more just reality, as I have spoken abou
es of identity
e I could help my pupils come to an understanding of their personal
as learners, I needed to com
specifically how my identity as a teacher was formed. I began by examining what I
meant by my identity as a teacher as a wrote in my diary,
Did I make a distinction between the personal and professional me?
No. When I teach, I am a mixture of both.
(21 March 2002 Journal in data archive Appendix 2.1b)
The ‘blurring of the boundaries between personal and professional lives’ (Nias 1989,
p.181) is part of what Nias describes as teacher identity. She talks about teachers
being ‘themselves in the classroom’ (p.181). However her understanding of the
94
blurring of roles is limited to factual personal information about what teachers do
outside school hours. For example, a teacher in Nias’s study said that her students
were aware of details of the teacher’s personal life such as what she did the previous
evening. I have a different understanding of this blurring of the boundaries. The
lurring occurs for me because of the inseparability of me from my work. It is an
urch are expected to pervade the ethos of the school and all who
ork and learn in it.
to others’, as Buber (1937) said, and other people
erceive me from their perspectives. The freedom to construct one’s identity can be
b
integral part of who I am. In addition, the idea of totally separating personal beliefs
and professional identity is not countenanced in my specific workplace. This is
because my school is under the patronage of the Roman Catholic Church and the
beliefs of that ch
w
To some, this situation may appear to be coercive or a denial of the freedom to
construct one’s own identity. My values, however, are the basis of my view of
myself in the world, and related to my ontological position. They are part of my own
theory of being.
By considering a little further the question of identity formation I want to question if
my teaching can provide ways to reconceptualise my identity and challenge the
systemic constraints on my potential. My identity as a teacher is not limited to my
name, culture, situation, roles or gender. My past, present and future are contained
within my identity. My identity includes my individual sense of being. Yet I cannot
focus solely on myself in that I cannot be a teacher in isolation. As Derrida (1987)
pointed out, identity involves a capacity to see oneself as not the centre. So I
understand myself as ‘Other
p
denied when identity is forged by the external social constructs such as those in the
education system which label pupils as learning disabled (Ireland, Department of
Education and Science 1999a and 2002a). This freedom can also be denied in the
dominant discourses within which I work when I focus on the four commercially
produced programmes above.
To answer my question ‘Who am I?’ I revisit feelings and lived events in order to
make my own meanings of them. For example in the picture on p.99 above (Picture
4.3), from a traditional perspective of teaching as imparting information and skills, it
95
could appear that I am ignoring the pupil at my table, that I am engrossed in my own
world and not bothering to teach my pupils. Her experience of what was actually
happening and reflection on what happened was quite different. My description of
what was happening in that picture shows that the picture represents my values of
equality, justice, human dignity and service in action. Through self-reflection I can
develop a new understanding for and about myself. This concept has similarities
with what Foucault (1979 and 1980; see Rabinow 1984 and McNay 1994) referred
to as inner critical engagement. I check my reflections against my pupils’ views.
However, self–reflection is not sufficient. I must also check my understanding of
myself against others. So, I engage first in a process that can be compared to looking
at myself in the mirror in the company of others; then travelling into the mirror; and
from the inside of the mirror questioning and checking with those others who remain
outside the mirror. Foucault (1979 and 1980) writes that identity can include inner
critical engagement and outer questioning of the condition of which the self is
constituted. My analogy of the mirror works at two similar levels of questioning;
rst, the inner self-questioning and second, the questioning of one’s understanding
this course of action I located my research
ithin an inclusive and relational form of logic (Whitehead 2004a). I demonstrated
uding my pupils’ ideas and
fi
of oneself with and in relation with others. So I am suggesting that my pupils’
perceived identity as learning disabled and my perceived identity as a voiceless
facilitator can potentially be reconceptualised through inner self-questioning and
through the questioning of our understandings of ourselves with and in relation with
each other.
My understanding of identity and how I aimed to develop a form of teaching that
would influence the pupils in my research to create positive learning identities is
connected to values of freedom. I understand that ideas of freedom, identity and the
recognition of the critical capacities of learning are interrelated. I ground my ideas in
the work of Greene (1988) who speaks of freedom as a core condition for the
development of critical capacity. In taking
w
the spontaneity of my logic by acting on and incl
suggestions about trying each other’s ways of learning spellings. I also demonstrated
a relational form of logic in acting to extend the relational, co-operative learning that
I had observed in the pupils’ cookery lessons to my Friday teaching that I had freed
from teaching commercial programmes.
96
~My understanding of social justice in my teaching
I have explained that these programmes involve a model of teaching that treats the
child as an object rather than as a unique individual. The child is positioned as a
non-thinking someone to be trained in new skills. Both learner and teacher voice
were diminished in the teaching of these four programmes in that I as the teacher
became an unthinking facilitator of the programmes and the pupils became passive
recipients of the programmes. Teaching these programmes appeared to me to be an
njust denial of both the pupils’ capabilities and mine. I perceive two difficulties
h a pupil could
dentify personal learning style for spellings’ (Table 4.3), showing an awareness of
u
here. First, these accounts do not address the normalising processes when pupils with
specific learning disability (dyslexia) acquiesce in normative perceptions that they
are unable to learn. Second, this behaviouristic approach to learning positions the
learner as passive within the learning process, and therefore self-motivation to learn
is diminished.
For me, justice includes becoming aware of and testing my ways of teaching and
learning, as I have described above. Getting an academic qualification for my studies
is part of my process of legitimating my new thinking and actions. By getting a PhD
for theorising my practice, I will be contributing to a knowledge base for our
profession. For both my pupils and myself achieving justice will mean reversing our
positions of marginalisation where our learning and knowledge appear to me to be
devalued within the education system. The implications for my practice are that
justice for the children will mean allowing them to become aware of and investigate
their own learning successes and provide opportunities to transfer their new
understandings to other situations. I believe that this form of justice in education is a
live concept that can be understood in relation to people’s practices. I have shown
this idea in two ways during this chapter: in the pictures that I have included, and in
my account of how I encourage my pupils to engage in action research into their
own learning of spellings. These and the extracts from my Individual Educational
Plans in 2001 and 2003, show changes in my practice in whic
‘i
his own learning. The pupil also investigated his own learning when we ‘discussed
learning strategies.’ By composing ‘higher and lower order questions on text’ the
pupil actively transferred some of the learning skills that he had acquired. In the
97
lived realty of my teaching, the pupil was actively taking control of his own learning
as did all the pupils in this cohort in their action research projects.
Many theorists of justice, for example Rawls (1999), offer analyses of what justice is
nd involves. Rawls (1999) offers a propositional conceptualisation of justice. He
ples from others’ lives. They also are adopting a
ropositional stance in their studies in relation to the effectiveness of established
a
regards ‘justice’ as an object of enquiry. However, instead of adopting a
propositional approach to a study of justice, I am forming a living theory of justice
that is informed by ideas to do with people’s capacity to think for themselves and
negotiate their own ways of learning, recognising that other people are also aiming
to do the same for themselves.
The dominant form of justice in education focuses on issues of provision (Davies
1999) and issues of inclusion (Castles and Miller 1998). Accordingly, working from
an externalist view of theory as a discrete body of knowledge that can be applied to
practice, researchers such as Young (1990) and Griffiths (2003) write about action
for social justice. Both Young (1990) and Griffiths (2003) discuss the complexities
of established theories of social justice and suggest strategies and principles for
action using practical exam
p
theories of social justice in different research settings. I, however, am not placing my
research within a propositional form of theory. I want to demonstrate the
development of a living theory of learning how to teach for social justice from
within my practice as I ask how I can develop changes in my practice to improve my
pupils’ learning experience.
I am engaging with ideas of social justice for emancipation in that I want to free the
children from the label of disability and, for myself, I want the freedom to provide a
more just form of pedagogy. In doing so I believe the children could engage in a
more just way of being. I also seek the freedom to develop a form of theory of
practice that can take into account the practical learning of both teacher and pupils.
To achieve these emancipatory aims, I became involved in new ways of thinking and
theorising that celebrated my own capacity for knowledge generation. The example
of my facilitation of pupils conducting action enquiries into their individual ways of
learning spelling, worked towards a form of social justice that liberated both the
98
children and myself. This form of justice recognised individual capacities to learn
and speaks to my existing values around freedom and the capacity of all to think
critically and to be knowledge creators. However none of these ideals could have
een achieved within traditional forms of theory. A new form of theorising was
h that allowed all participants to be valued and
al within those systems. His Theory of Justice (1971) states that
ach person possesses an inviolability founded on justice that even the welfare of
tilitarian, institutional
pproach, according to Rawls (1955), is that institutions claim to act in order to
b
required because of my focus on social justice and the individual. I needed to engage
in a new form of dialogical researc
take a full part in the research process. In this way both the children and I had
opportunities to create our own answers and thereby generate our own living theories
of practice.
~ Propositional forms of theory do not encourage critical engagement with
pedagogical issues in my context
My pupils called Fridays ‘freedom Fridays’. The form of teaching and learning that I
facilitated on Fridays was my attempt to understand and reconcile the relationship
between the propositional stances to knowledge adopted by the institutions within
which I work – both in my school and university – and the dialogical perspective of
knowledge that I espouse. I have been helped by the work of Rawls. Rawls’s (1955
and 1971) ideas resonate with the distinction I am making between institutional
approaches to teaching pupils with specific learning difficulties and my practice as I
work as an individu
e
society as a whole cannot override. The idea of the precedence of the individual over
society is discussed at length in Rawls (1955), where he examines differences
between ‘the justification of a practice by an institution and the justification of
particular actions carried out by an individual and which falls under this institution’
(Rawls 1955, p.1).
Rawls (1955) claims that the intent that inspires the institution and the individual
defines their differing approaches. The intent that inspires a u
a
provide a system for the good of society, which they often ground historically.
Similarly those who support the teaching of pupils with specific learning difficulties,
both in academia and the Department of Education and Science, have the intent of
99
providing appropriate systems for those with specific learning disability (dyslexia)
within the historical necessity for literacy (Coolahan, 1994).
I was concerned about individual pupils with specific learning disability and sought
to help each of them to be compensated for the difficulties they face daily within the
dominant education system. My intent can be related to Noddings’ (2002) theory of
care. Her theory proposes ideas of learning and teaching concerning reciprocity and
the necessity to confirm learners in their capabilities, which I agree with. I disagree
with Noddings, however, when she speaks of how to put her ideas of care into
practice. Her strategies centre on transforming curriculum and in doing so she slips
into a propositional view of knowledge and adopts a utilitarian approach in her
practice by seeking to put systems of best practice in place. She offers practical
strategies for caring for others to adopt. I am arguing that the focus should be on a
form of theory that allows the individual to transform themselves rather than a
theorising of curriculum and skills. In contrast to the work of Noddings, Naidoo
005), who also speaks about how to put ideas of care into practice, describes how
iteria by which my research and changes in
y practice could be judged. Although I espouse a theory of justice that draws on
on his ideas
I went about doing this.
(2
her ontological commitment – a passion for compassion – and her engagement with
the thinking of others has enabled her own practice to develop and from that to
develop a living, inclusional and responsive theory of her practice. I too sought to
develop a living, inclusional and responsive theory of practice to address the
difficulties that my pupils and I were facing in our context, and I now explain how I
proposed to do this.
In order to challenge a pedagogical context that is grounded in propositional
knowledge, I believe that I must begin by articulating my values and show how I am
prepared to live by my values in my practice. This is a problematic concept. In my
research I articulated my values as the cr
m
Rawls’s ideas around justice, and in particular justice as fairness, I build
towards a practical living theory of justice, where the values on which I base my
understanding of justice would be shown to be lived in my practice. The validation
of my theory of justice depends on my ability to show that these values are being
lived out in my practice as both a teacher and researcher. In Part Three I discuss how
100
~ The underpinning assumptions of the values base of my research
My research question, ‘How do I improve my teaching of pupils with specific
key talents had been unobserved
uring his schooling because the school system valued logical mathematical
, I am seeking new clarity and understandings around the
ature of specific learning disability (dyslexia).
The c practice
can b of Young and Noddings around
social cluding
hools, should provide
where others can listen.
(Young 2000, p.184)
learning disability who are within my care as a resource teacher in a primary
school?’ is grounded in values of justice, freedom, care, equality and respect for the
capacity of the individual. I have shown, in my descriptions of my practice as well as
in the pictures and my planning for teaching that I have included in this chapter, that
I hold these values at a practical rather than abstract level in my research.
My practice and my thinking about these concepts are significantly coloured by my
understandings around specific learning disability/dyslexia which have come from
the stories and experiences of others; first, the book The Scars of Dyslexia (Eisenson
1994) in which adults with dyslexia described the horrors of their schooling and its
effects on their later lives; second, the book The Gift of Dyslexia (Davis 1994) in
which the author, as an adult with dyslexia, described talents through which he had
achieved fame and fortune in later life. These
d
intelligences rather than other forms of intelligence; and third, I was intrigued by my
pupils’ interest in famous people who are said to have specific learning disabilities
(dyslexia) and also in my pupils’ own stories. In committing myself to listening to
and caring for my pupils
n
hanges I am making towards a more just, more free and more caring
e analysed from the perspective of the writings
justice and care. Young (2000) suggests that social institutions, in
sc
conditions for all persons to learn and use satisfying and expansive
skills in socially recognised settings and enable them to play and
communicate with others or express their feelings and perspectives on
social life in contexts
101
Nodd ve, which
could to learn in
ways ought her
tanding that
shared control.
(Noddings 2002, p.89)
ngaging
dialogue is problematic (Noddings 2002); second, the maintenance of openof
the dominance of propositional forms of theory in my
ontext is also problematic. By adopting a self-development approach however, for
I value all children, with or without dyslexia, and I seek ways of celebrating them
and the
address the
asking in m
theory of learning to teach for social
justice in which my teaching can celebrate the potential of the children
ings (2002) provides a model of education from a care perspecti
satisfy the needs of those with specific learning disability (dyslexia)
described by Young above. Noddings’s conceptualisation of care br
to the unders
how good I can be depends at least in part on how you treat me. My
goodness is not entirely my property and the control I exercise, as a
carer, is always a
The idea of ‘shared control’, for me, implies openness not only to my pupils but also
other pupils and teaching colleagues in my school as well as critical friends and
researcher colleagues.
Difficulties remain for the approach I am proposing for my research. First, the
maintenance of equilibrium of power between various people whom I am e
in
endedness in the face
c
both myself and my pupils in my research, I claim that I am moving towards a
different form of theory of social justice, as I explain throughout this thesis.
4.5 Summary
ir ways of knowing, whatever these ways may be. So I have decided how to
metaphorical fourth wave of the successes and failures of my teaching by
y research,
o How do I develop a theory of learning to teach that is inclusive of various
ways of learning?
o How do I develop my own living
with specific learning disability (dyslexia)?
102
Coming to the point where I am able to ask these questions required a new
epistemology and ways to address issues of power and validation, which I will
describe in the next section on methodology.
For now, I want to reflect on why I was concerned about my teaching, given that my
practice and my political context appear to work within different forms of
knowledge. In this chapter I have reflected on core issues around the nature of
educational knowledge that is valued in the literature of teaching in my field. Much
of the reported research in the field of specific learning disability (dyslexia) is
onducted within a scientific framework (Pumphrey and Reason 1991; Hulme and
).
with Griffiths (2003)
nd Young (2000), where my practice will be shown to exhibit the values on which I
c
Snowling 1997; Snowling 2000), where the underlying philosophy seeks definitive
answers that presuppose that there is one correct way of knowing. The Aristotelian
idea that there is only way of knowing (text, 1253), proposes a philosophical
approach that is at odds with research showing that those who have specific learning
disability (dyslexia) are a heterogeneous group (Kerr 2001; Fisher 2002
I examined the values and the logics that were implicit in the forms of theory within
the literatures mentioned. The literatures were rooted in causal logic. These theories
analyse the biology, cognition and teaching programmes that aim to remediate
deficits in specific skills (Hulme and Snowling 1997) in terms of cause and effect,
and assume that theory may be applied unproblematically to practice.
My research is founded on ideas of emancipation through the acquisition of
knowledge (Freire 1994). I build on Rawls’s (1971) ideas of justice as fairness and
propose a practical theory of justice that has some similarities
a
base my understanding of justice. The issue of the disempowerment of the individual
by dominant forms of propositional theory in my field has led me towards
articulating my own living theory of justice for the teaching of those with specific
learning disability (dyslexia) where the latent capabilities of the learner can be made
explicit and enhanced in the social development of schooling.
My thesis is about forms of theory, and how these forms and their underpinning
logics and values and normative assumptions transform into social and educational
103
practices. My ontological perspectives, which are the grounds for my form of
theorising, are about valuing life and people. Again I am working in a normative
system that is driven by different ontological perspectives, that people are objects
who can be controlled and manipulated. This raised issues of justice. Because of my
ontological belief in the uniqueness of the individual, I engaged in forms of practice
that moved in the direction of those ontological values. Treating people as valuable
eople is commensurate with how I understand justice, that is, as grounded in the
ithin the practical context of my research there are hindrances to my pupils’, and
y, achieving our potential. I needed to find ways of challenging and overcoming
ose hindrances. In the next section I explain how I found a practical methodology
at included a form of theory and logic that was commensurate with my values of
spect for humans and their capabilities.
p
relationships between people. The normative system in which my research is based
denies individuals as valuable and closes down their life chances, so I perceive these
normative systems as unjust. My own emergent ideas of justice helped me to
understand what I am doing as I worked with young people who were also caught in
conflicting systems of logic and values.
W
m
th
th
re
104
105
PART THREE SHOW THE SITUATION
the previo me to commence
y research n to change my
tuation. Pa ble children with
ecific lear do. This choice
volved dec form of theory by
hich my learning and the learning of children with specific learning disability
yslexia) could be explained. In Chapters Five and Six, I produce data to show how
: METHODOLOGY – HOW DO I
AS IT WAS AND AS IT DEVELOPED?
In us chapters I have spoken about the influences that led
m and the concerns that prompted me to take actio
si rt of my aim was to find pedagogies that would ena
sp ning disability (dyslexia) to show what they could
in isions to change my practice, and also to change the
w
(d
my pupils and I were systematically disadvantaged. I also produce data to show that
I have taken action to overcome the disadvantage and transform the disadvantage
into new forms of opportunity.
My journey towards a methodology in which I could develop educational and
practical theory, from within the epistemological and ontological frameworks
described in the previous sections, was difficult. It was difficult in that I needed to
reflect, question and articulate personal reasons for my choice. This involved
looking at myself in a metaphorical mirror. I reflected and questioned what I saw in
the mirror. I came to understand why I chose not to accept what I saw there and
undertake research in order to change things. My personal questioning was recorded
in my reflective journals at the time of my research (Appendix 2.1a to 2.1g) and is
shown in the thought bubbles throughout the next two chapters in order to
demonstrate the epistemological and philosophical concerns I had developed along
this journey. These questions were about
106
e
andards by which my research can be judged. That part of Chapter Five is my
th the
pistemological and ontological stance that I have adopted.
I utilise those four reflective questions to frame Chapters Five and Six. In those
chapters I, in my dual role of teacher and researcher, consider what form of
methodology can bring immediate change to the learning experiences of pupils with
specific learning disability (dyslexia) whom I teach, when I ask, ‘Who benefits from
my research?’ In the first part of Chapter Five I explain why I chose a new
methodology for studying the field of specific learning disability (dyslexia). In the
second part of Chapter Five I address validity issues within this methodology and th
1. Who bene
2. Have I found a form of research that I can live
with in that it is commensurate with my values?
ed ethically and have I morally taken the
best steps to change the learning experiences for the
pupils with specific learning disability (dyslexia) in
fits from my research?
3. Have I act
my research?
4. Have I scrutinised my ways of working to ensure
that they are my best effort to address the concerns I
have?
(2 Feb 2003 Journal see Appendix 2.1d)
st
response to questions two and three above, and is where I explain how I validate my
claims to new knowledge in relation to the criteria that I have described as the
standards by which I have created a living theory from within my practice. Chapter
Six explains the data gathering and analysis processes of my research in response to
the question, ‘Have I scrutinised my ways of working to ensure that they are my best
effort to address the concerns I have?’ I examine if my research methods are
commensurate not only with my stated research aims but also wi
e
107
CHAPTER FIVE: My journey towards understanding using a self-study action
l and Christian values that I held, and what was happening in
y practice. Again, a self-study action research methodology could facilitate this.
rounded in articulated
alues. Claims are evaluated against those same values, and theories generated. The
continue to tell the story of my research and how changes came about in my
research methodology
5.1 Introduction
My research set out to improve my teaching of the pupils in my care. I choose a selfstudy
action research approach to study ‘How I can improve my practice?’
(Whitehead 1989). I choose this approach because it would enable me to address the
core concerns that I have spoken of in previous chapters. First, I wanted to take
action to change what I saw as failing situations in my teaching and in the learning
of my pupils with specific learning disability (dyslexia). An action research approach
could facilitate this. Second I sought ways to resolve the pervasive contradictions
between the rhetoric of propositional theory and the lived reality of my practice and
my pupils’ experiences of my practice. Third, I wanted to find ways to address the
epistemological concerns I had about the teaching of pupils with specific learning
disability (dyslexia). Fourth I wanted to act in ways that would address the clashes
between the ontologica
m
The key characteristics of a self-study action research approach are that it provides a
methodology in which the researcher can address issues in their practice, by
reflecting on that practice and taking actions, which are g
v
significance of those claims for the wider community must also be articulated. My
understandings of self-study action research are commensurable with, and draw on
the views of McNiff and Whitehead (2006), as I will explain in this chapter.
5.2 The positioning of research participants within dominant research
methodologies
I
practice and thinking in order to address the concerns that I have expressed so far.
Similar to my ‘Freedom Fridays,’ my research activities were given further impetus
by a fortuitous yet unplanned event. This is what happened.
108
At the end of a Friday class, I sat down to make notes in my reflective journal. The
pupils were tidying up their spelling record sheets. Pupil R edged towards me. As
was usual for me by that time, I was sitting on a pupil’s chair, so Pupil R was
towering over me. She looked over my shoulder and asked, ‘What is it? Why are you
writing?’ I explained that I was writing down what I was thinking. I was writing
about all the good things that happened in our class today. I wanted to write them
down so that I could remember (I had explained my research to her) that I was doing
them and maybe use them in other classes. Pupil R said, ‘You are writing down good
things so that you can remember them. Can I do that too?’ This was the story of how
my pupils’ learning journals started. I bought them a diary each. And every day they
rote down something new that they had learned. We discussed what they should
and w ew stroke at
imming or mselves
read, so spelling or handwriting did not matter. Later in my research some pupils
ave me permission to retain their journals in my data archive and to quote from
method to enable my pupils and
yself to celebrate our personal knowledge. This method was in sharp contrast to
how porary
methods for studying specific learning disability (dyslexia).
hen I examined the methods and methodologies of current research in the field of
f the mirror that I
entioned in the introduction to this section. I positioned myself and the pupils in
my care in front of the mirror as I considered the research methods that I described
w
e decided it could be anything we learned such as a n
something in school. Their diaries were intende
write
sw d only for the
to
g
them in my research.
By sheer accident I had come upon a research
m
my pupils and I are systematically disadvantaged by many contem
W
specific learning disability (dyslexia), I realised that the positioning of research
participants was significant, in that the pupils being researched rarely benefited from
the research. This realisation occurred when I looked at my research question –
‘How do I improve my teaching of pupils with specific learning disability who are
within my care as a resource teacher in a primary school?’ – through various
methodological lenses, as I now explain.
To begin my explanation, I want to return to the metaphor o
m
109
in Chapter Four when I was investigating commercially produced programmes for
pupils with specific learning disability (dyslexia). I tested the pupils, I taught the
programmes and then I retested the pupils and evaluated the programmes. The
reflections that I see are those of myself growing in stature while my pupils diminish
in size until they almost vanish. This posed dilemmas for me as a teacher and
researcher because the reflection in the mirror points to an imbalance. Our new
positioning implies that I am in a position of power over the pupils, leading them to
be less important and almost vanish from the creation of new knowledge within the
research process. I recorded my concern about this imbalance in my reflective diary
below. I was also concerned about staying outside the process of enquiry, when I
asked:

Eisenhart (2001) spoke of a similar dilemma when she wrote about making her
decision between writing about the lives of others and taking action on their behalf.
She states her research dilemma in these words:
I have a responsibility as an anthropologist, a teacher and a person to
speak and act sometimes on behalf of the girls who are participating in
my research.
(Eisenhart 2001, p.20)
In my research I did not want to act on behalf of my pupils. Informed by the values
of justice, the right to create identity, and respect for the individual and
Have I the right to take action for my pupils or should I
encourag
(4 May 2002 Journal see Appendix 2.1b)
e them to take action for themselves?
their capacity
to learn (as I discussed in Sections One and Two), I sought to influence pupils to
take action for themselves. I saw a reality in my metaphorical mirror where
intelligent pupils were excluded from creating their own knowledge although I was
seeking an appropriate research methodology to change this situation towards a
reality of empowerment. Their positioning had systematically disadvantaged my
pupils as research participants within that research methodology
110
Next I examined the methodologies of current research in the field of specific
learning disability (dyslexia) in relation to the positioning of research participants. I
lso considered whether empirical or interpretive research approaches, as described
arch question. An
mpirical methodology for my research would focus mainly on the development of
bstract theor earning, and
y understandin s of creating
ew knowledge. digm because
am seeking brate our personal
nowledge while incorporating our factual knowledge. I had found a suitable
arning disability who are within my care as a
source teacher in a primary school?’ contains a dual focus on my pupils and
nowledge as an object
a
in Bassey (1990 and 1999) and Borg et al. (1993), could address the processes of
learning, change and the value base that informed my rese
e
a y whereas I sought to focus on the development of pupils’ l
g of learning is that it is a personal, on-going proces
My research question is not suited to a positivist para
m
n
I ways to enable my pupils and myself to cele
k
research method in the reflective journals of my pupils and myself. Now I needed a
methodology that could incorporate this method and that was commensurate with its
underpinning values.
In the light of the contexts and issues I described in the previous chapters, an
interpretive, ethnographic or case study methodology would be equally unsuited to
the aims of my research because these methodologies generally position the
researcher outside the field of study. My research question, ‘How do I improve my
teaching of pupils with specific le
re
myself, both of whose processes of learning must be accounted for through the form
of research I chose. Although ethnographic research or an educational case study
approach are commonly accepted forms of qualitative research in educational
settings, they position the researcher as a spectator of the field of enquiry and would
be at odds with my values around social justice, as I will now explain.
Spradley (1980, cited in Hitchcock and Hughes 1995 pp.17-19) uses the metaphor of
petroleum engineers and explorers in search of oil to compare the thinking behind
positive and interpretive paradigms. Both groups of people, he says, work in linear,
sequential methods and have prior knowledge in terms of what they seek (research
question), how to look for it (methodology) and what to expect (significance).
However, differences between their approaches lie in their answers to the question
‘What did you find?’ The engineers would define their new k
111
(oil), whereas the explorers would have found a description – or new knowledge
ung pupils’ time, energy and commitment to being researched, I do not
ccept that they can or should remain passive and unaffected. I was concerned that
or other paradigm – might not be educational in that it did not benefit
is relevant to practice – entitled ‘A proposed automatic processing
eficit dimension to dyslexia’ – but his methodology focuses on justifying a specific
practical approach rather than transforming current practice.
about something.
This explanation highlights, for me, the answer to a question that I wrote in my
reflective journal early in the course of my research, which was:
In the case of both groups of oil researchers, I would not be perturbed that they
should gain from their objective or descriptive new knowledge and the oil would
remain impassive, impervious and untouched. In the case of educational research
involving yo
Other researchers in the social science paradigm
walk away when they have completed their
research. They use the information they find and
searched? Do they ever gain?
benefit from it. But what about the people or things
they have re
(4 Feb 2002 Journal see Appendix 2.1b)
a
educational research – regardless of whether it was within an empirical, interpretive,
social science
the participants. This would, for me, be a denial of the living voices of those pupils
and of respect for them as humans.
A denial of respect for pupils in propositional forms of research could be justified on
the grounds that educational research may inform future policy and decisions about
the type and amount of services that might be appropriate for pupils with specific
learning disability (dyslexia) as in the research of Morris (2001), Nugent (2006) and
D.A. Walsh (2003) on provision for those with dyslexia in Ireland, and the research
of De Buitléir (2002) on curriculum. Policy decisions are largely informed by
abstract, conceptual theory such as the sources listed below. Bourke (1985) and
Doyle (2003) employ traditional, scientific methodologies, and approach dyslexia
from a psychological background. Doyle’s work (2003), for example, is a largescale,
long-term study still in progress. Bourke (1985) addresses a very specific
question that
d
112
The dominance of methodologies that engage in abstract, conceptual theory has also
permeated interpretive research methodologies in the field of specific learning
disability (dyslexia). Chapple (1999), for example, enquired into ‘Dyslexia:
assessment, diagnosis and intervention: a case study of the effective intervention’.
Her interpretive case study approach adopted a research stance that Eisenhart (2001)
states has
proliferated in recent years and come to dominate many areas of
educational research.
(Eisenhart 2001, p.15)
This methodological approach positions pupils as inert objects, like the oil in
Spradley’s (1980) explanations above. So I contend that current forms of research on
specific learning disability (dyslexia) are limited in that they offer little practical help
to learners.
~ Implications of a dual focus of my research on my pupils and on myself within
our contexts
Current forms of research on specific learning disability (dyslexia) are also of
concern to me, as a researcher, because of the idea of the existence of a research
reality external to me as a researcher. They concern me on the grounds that I
understand the researcher inevitably to be part of the reality they are investigating. In
chapt or of the
wave utside
of. T rks of
ocking, Haskell and Linds (2001) and Miller and Nakagawa (2002) who offer an
ves of soul or spirit to body-mind relationships.
hese researchers are theorising their realities and their realities include body-mind
ers One to Four, I spoke about how I perceive myself (in the metaph
s) as part of a complex and ever-changing reality which I cannot step o
he idea that reality cannot be held as external is supported in the wo
H
alternative ontological positioning for the educational researcher. Hocking et al.
(2001) write about unfolding the body-mind relationship in educational research.
The work of Miller and Nakagawa (2002) introduces perspectives of spirituality in
education by the addition of perspecti
T
relationships.
113
I believe this has relevance for my research because in my situation, my research
and theorising are located in the reality of my classes and the reality of the pupils
with specific learning disability (dyslexia). Part of that reality is the changes in my
inking and that of my pupils as well as in our practices of teaching and learning,
hich occu peaking about
he primac sner 1988, p.15),
ses the term
constantly changing reality. He advocates action research as a methodology to
iscourses that inform the teaching and learning of pupils with specific learning
s I discussed in Chapters Three and Four.
ateriality. What
‘lived engagement’.
(Giroux and McLaren 1992, p.170)
‘out there’ but is living and changing.
We can mould reality in accordance with our needs, interests, prejudices, and
cultural tradi
Since I conceptualise my reality in t
offers a degree of flui my choice of methodology I had to ask,
th
rred during the course of my research. Eisner (1988), in s
y of experience and the politics of methodology’ (Ei
w
‘t
u ‘methodological enfranchisement’ to show the reality of research about
a
address living experiences in educational research. My living reality is in constant
flux and can be understood as a process of development and change through
experience. I relate my conceptualisation of reality to postmodernist
conceptualisations where reality does not exist as a fixed entity. I locate my theory
against other critical thinkers, such as Giroux and McLaren (1992). When outlining
the then current situation in critical pedagogy, they discussed how language works to
construct and mediate reality. This resembles my stance on the importance of the
d
disability (dyslexia) in my context, a
Active and appropriate learning for pupils with specific learning disability (dyslexia)
was one of the aims of my research. Giroux and McLaren (1992) present provisional
elements of a critical pedagogy that has the potential to create active learners. As
McLaren has pointed out, students react to information viscerally
Knowledge is not something to be ‘understood’; it is always felt and
responded to somatically…that is, in its corporeal m
matters is what is felt knowledge…knowledge as a
I agree with Giroux and McLaren that both knowledge and reality involve lived
engagement. Reality cannot be considered as
tions (Beck 2004).
his fluid way, I am seeking a methodology that
dity. In coming to
114
‘W
would ed in how I theorise it?’ I wrote about these questions in my
refl
ion; they are in constant
lationship with others. So I am choosing a research methodology that is not based
he
ion.
earcher and the research participants in empirical and
terpretative forms of research. These were the dominant paradigms in my field of
o a personal focus;
hat is the significance of my shifting reality to the wider community?’ and ‘Why
others be interest
ective journal as follows:
I am concerned that my research should have relevance for others because the
metaphorical mirror cannot reflect myself or my pupils in isolation. We are placed
against a background of my school, of teaching colleagues and pupils’ peers. Neither
my teaching colleagues nor the pupils’ peers exist in isolat
Are my ideas about teaching of value to others? Has my
research relevance to others in my school or beyond?
(12 October 2002 Journal see Appendix 2.1c)
re
in the kind of propositional theories that inform policy or provision but in t
personal relationships within which new knowledge can be created in educat
~ Who benefits from my research?
In raising the question, ‘Who benefits from my research? I have first considered the
positioning of the res
in
specific learning disability (dyslexia), but they did not address the personal learning
experiences of pupils or show ways to improve these experiences from the pupils’
perspective. These methodologies work from an outsider focus, which is not
commensurate with the personal focus of my research.
The aims of my research required that the pupils who participated in it must benefit
in ways that change both their positioning and circumstances. To achieve this, my
research methodology needed to facilitate:
o an equality of participation;
o a changing power dynamic in pupil / teacher relationships;
o a fluid conceptualisation of reality as not external to the researcher or the
research participants;
115
o others and myself in taking action for ourselves to improve our
circumstances;
o All of these concepts are grounded in values of equality, justice, freedom and
ss the question, ‘Have I found a research methodology that is
ommensurate with the values that underpin my research?’
I want to
interrogate th odological approaches
in my spe
My pupi the end of class. Pupil M said,
‘Teacher, e how I
d it?’ The other pupils heard her description of how Pupil M learned. One by one,
what
too
’s descriptions of how they learned, we decided to
rite how we learned into our journals. When I gave my pupils new diaries in the
respect for the individual and their capabilities.
The reflective journals that my pupils and I kept throughout my research provided a
method that had a personal focus, an equality of participation and a changing power
dynamic from the time prior to, and in the early part of, my research, when I alone
marked my pupils’ copies (See Chapter Three) and decided if learning had
happened. In the second part of this chapter I move from a method to a methodology
when I addre
c
5.3 How I am disadvantaged within research methodologies that do not
link embodied values and epistemological values to research methods
turn to a positive practical incident that occurred in my research before I
e advantages and disadvantages of various meth
cific context.
ls and I were filling in our journals at
I l arned to do new steps at ballet yesterday. Do you want to know
di
over the next few weeks, they offered oral explanations of how they learned
they were writing about in their journals. Eventually, one Friday, when time was
short in class to hear everyone
w
next calendar year they titled them ‘What I learned and how I learned it.’
Together we had devised a simple method to explain our learning. My pupils and I
were reflecting on and studying our own practices. They were learning how to spell
and I was learning how to teach them to learn how to spell. This is not a method that
is found in any other research, that I am aware of, into how pupils with specific
learning disability (dyslexia) learn. It was a part of our self-study methodology,
116
which again is not a methodology through which specific learning disability
(dyslexia) is commonly studied.
The most common research paradigms in which specific learning disability
(dyslexia) is investigated are empirical and interpretive. Neither of these
methodologies is grounded in the epistemological or ontological commitments that
have informed the aims and core issues of my research. I want to explain how I
erceive this dominance of particular research methodologies as a disadvantage to
priate to:
The particular context of specific learning disability from my
ng a living theory that had current relevance to the pupils I
o Bridging the theory-practice divide
ant to address in turn these reasons why I felt that my pupils and/or I
ould be disadvantaged if I chose the more usual approaches over a self-study
pective was grounded in my Christian values (see Chapter Three). My
upils and I n our journals by
owing an dom and active
ompassion (see Appendices 2.1b to 2.1g; 2.6a to ecognition of my
elief in human dignity, I wanted to continue to celebrate the capacities of my pupils
p
me, as a teacher and a researcher, who wants to improve the learning experiences of
my pupils with specific learning disability (dyslexia) and who also wants to improve
my teaching.
There are four other main reasons why I felt that the empirical and interpretive
methodologies usually used to study specific learning disability (dyslexia) would not
be suitable approaches. In addition to a desire to enquire into my own teaching and
my pupils’ learning I wanted to find a methodology that was appro
o
perspective and from my pupils’ perspectives.
o Developi
was teaching
o My values commitments both ontological and epistemological

I now w
w
action research methodology.
~ The particular context of specific learning disability (dyslexia) from my
perspective and from my pupils’ perspectives
My pers
p were already explaining some of our capabilities i
sh awareness of how we learned in a spirit of free
c 2.6d and 6.3). In r
b
117
with specific learning disability (dyslexia) within my chosen methodology. I wanted
a methodology for my context that harmonised practice and values so that my
research would be of service to my pupils and myself as their teacher. The form of
journaling we now engaged in had grown through our influence on each other and
from within an atmosphere of equality and justice. Our journals were not only about
school learning. We were already addressing issues about the wholeness of the
person.
The issue of injustice in my context was one of the two important issues that guided
What do we know? How have I come to know it? How do I validate
my knowledge? How do we share my knowledge? What do I use my
knowledge for?
The t se in my
view see Chapter
Three
~ Developing a living theory of practice that had current relevance to the pupils
I was teaching
I am committed to the idea that theories of living practice can influence current
olicy
below,
my search for an appropriate methodology. The second was my value commitments
and these values, as I described in Chapter Three, included a belief in the
individual’s ability to learn and create new knowledge. McNiff (2002) talks about
these ideas of individuals’ knowledge creation and creative power. When explaining
her preferences for self-study action research, she draws on the work of Chomsky
(1986) and develops questions about the nature of knowledge of language, how
knowledge of language is acquired, and how it is used. She asks,
(McNiff 2002, p.1)
erm ‘knowing’ as used by McNiff includes the idea of learning becau
learning is part of a transformational process of coming to know (
).
p and provision. This commitment is seen in my research journal question
‘Will they have left the school system before policy
changes arising from my research can benefit them?’
1 Journal, original in data archive,
Appendix 2.1b)
(11 December 200
118
I am positioning my students as active participants in my research because I want to
make a difference to the contexts in which my pupils are disadvantaged and
marginalised. I am not seeking to develop a grand theory of learning that will
influence policy and practice for future generations of pupils with specific learning
disability (dyslexia). Instead I am seeking to develop a living theory of practice that
has relevance for myself and those with whom I work, and that can be made
available for others to adopt and adapt as they wish.
~ Bridging the theory-practice divide
I developed an understanding of self-study action research during my studies for my
masters degree, when I successfully theorised my ways of understanding my practice
sing a metaphor of six concentric circles (see Figure 5.1 below) of increasing size.
of
changes in ethical stance around curriculum
pupils.
00, p.76)
u
Each circle totally embraced the previous one. The inner, smallest circle was a
practical concern in my teaching, which initiated my research. The next four circles
represented my developing theory, influences of school and the wider educational
community, issues of ethics and methodological implications. Finally the largest
outer circle represented my personal development and me. The key discovery for me
was
that the circles collapsed inwards. Vortex-like I became the centre
this changing visual representation. My search and development led to
changes in methodology,
intervention, changes in the wider learning community, changes in
teaching and finally to changes in the learning experiences for my
(McDonagh 20
Figure 5.1: Research circles
119
The visual metaphor of concentric circles influencing each other that I developed to
search
ethodology to address the philosophical and practical questions of practitioners.
arch, I was conducting research in
teac
historic dy action research, according to Hamilton and Pinnegar
(19
researc
change thesis,
(McDonagh 2000, p.76)
My value c pistemological
this section I want to exp bodied values and
e research methods that I chose. In Chapter Three I have explained that the
iritual beliefs that I hold as a Christian, informed my values and the concerns that
show the dialectical nature of my practice addressed a philosophical issue of how to
effect change and address a practical teaching and learning dilemma. Reflecting now
on my research methods, I believe that I had found a way to explain research that
was not linear. My methods were also in keeping with my value of respecting the
individual in two ways. First I had avoided the setting up of a control group, which I
consider denies the participation of the control group or the main group; second my
approach was in keeping with the epistemological stance I advocated in Chapter
Four of this thesis. I had found, similar to Loughran et al. (2004), that the
development of self-study action research can be attributed to a search for a re
m
In my Masters studies and in this current rese
hing rather than research on teaching. The shift towards research in teaching is a
al trend in self-stu
98 cited in Whitehead 2000). I found that the key features of self-study action
h are not located in methods and research tools but in its influence for living
. As I stated in my
I believe the full significance of my research is not the published
endpaper but the living interdependent growing initiatives it began in
each of the circled areas.
~ ommitments both ontological and e
In lain the relationship between my em
th
sp
led me to undertake this research. In particular I want to show, in this section, that by
making links between personal values and methodology, I demonstrated how I found
a form of research that I can live with, in that it is commensurate with my embodied
values. By finding ways to study my own practice and generate theory as politicised
practice (Whitehead and McNiff 2006, p.28-29), I show that these links exist at a
practical as well as theoretical level.
120
I believe that I have taken the best steps both morally and ethically to improve the
quality of learning experience for pupils with specific learning disability (dyslexia)
in my research because I can show how my values have become the standards by
which I strive to live and to have my research judged. These values constitute and
explain who I am and why I have chosen this form of research (Whitehead 2004a,
p.1). Like Farren (2005), I sought a methodology to bring my embodied knowledge
about teaching into the academy. I am placing my ontological perspective centrally
ithin my methodology (Bullough and Pinnegar 2004, p.319). In doing so I aim to
tely improve the marginalisation of my pupils.
wrote:
he significance of this question was that I was seeking a methodology that included
ctions for change and also included the views of the individuals being researched. A
n behalf of those pupils being researched. Cycles of
escriptions of events, evaluation, the introduction of change and its evaluation,
w
leave the world a better place than it was prior to my research (Naidoo 2005).
In order to show what this looked like in practice I return to two questions that I
asked myself at the beginning of this chapter.
Have I found a form of research that I can live with in that it is commensurate
with my values?
Have I morally and ethically taken the best steps to improve the quality of
learning experience for the pupils with specific learning disability (dyslexia)
in my research?
I am asking questions about whether, from my morally committed stance, I could
research in ways that did not immedia
I
W
ta archive Appendix 2.1b)
hy is the voice of pupils absent?
(14 March 2002 Journal, original in
da
T
a
case study action research methodology, as Bassey (1999) explains it, offers an
approach, which can include on emphasis on trying to make beneficial change in the
workplace. This form of research addresses the dilemma of Eisenhart (2001) when
she felt called to act o
d
121
form part of Eisenhart’s methodology. These cycles are similar to my work as a
source teacher, where teaching involves critical cycles of reflection that can lead to
ents could be generating a theory
bout practice but would not necessarily be generating theory from practice, as I now
wledge and the
alidity of those claims.
re
best practice in teaching according to the Primary Curriculum (Ireland, Department
of Education and Science 1999b). This systematic and critical enquiry could
improve the practical situation for the pupils in my research with specific learning
disability (dyslexia). These practical improvem
a
explain.
Whitehead and McNiff (2006, p.32) speak of theory generation as a form of
politicised practice. This idea is built on McNiff and Whitehead’s (2005) and
Whitehead’s (1989) explanations of generating theory by studying one’s own
practice. By ‘my theory of practice’ I mean that I am studying the changes in what I
do and why I am making those changes. I am also documenting the influence of my
changes in my pupils’ work. My theory is a living theory grounded in embodied
values. The values that informed my research are respect for the individual,
including ideas around human dignity, equality and wholeness (Chapter Two);
openness and fairness (Chapter Three); respect for the individual’s ability to learn,
including issues of equality, social justice, freedom, identity and care (Chapter Four).
These values also become the standards by which my research can be judged. This
brings me to my third diary question:
So now I explain the source of the values that I hold and then relate these values to
the research methods that I chose. I check these choices against the reflections in the
metaphorical mirror, showing how I test my claims to new kno
‘Have I morally and ethically taken the best steps to
improve the quality of learning experience for the
pupils with specific learning disability (dyslexia) in
my research?’
(24 March 2003 Journal, original in
data archive Appendix 2.1c)
v
122
5.4 Showing the realisation of my values as my research methods
In this section I discuss how I test my claims, taking into consideration ethical and
methodological issues around my research, in particular the advantages and
difficulties of positioning pupils as co-researchers. I begin with a practical
description of how I developed a key learning.
When my pupils were conducting their action research projects into how they
learned spellings, I audio-tape recorded each pupil individually, during their one-tone
classes, as they told about the strategy they used. There was soon a collection of
s. These discussions became a core part of my methodology.
What values did this research episode demonstrate? My pupils were playing an
active part in the selection of my research methods, demonstrating a value of
equality. I had given my pupils the opportunity to ask critical questions, so
demonstrating a freedom that would not usually be present in my context. I showed
respect for my pupils’ human dignity in consulting them and asking their permission
to share their tape-recordings with other pupils. My readiness to act on Pupil K’s
request is a demonstration of my compassion and service to others.
o
tapes on my desk. One day, Pupil K asked what was on each tape. When she heard
that seven other pupils had made a recording on the same topic as she had, she
asked, ‘Are they all the same?’ This was a simple question with profound
implications. Having listened as the pupils made their recordings it almost seemed
like a silly question. But it was exactly the way many people view pupils with
dyslexia, in that they presume that these pupils all have the same ways of learning. I
asked if Pupil K would like to hear the other tape recordings. ‘Yes. Of course.’ How
did she feel about others hearing her recording? ‘No problem.’ Over the course of
the next week all eight pupils agreed to permit each other to listen to their
recordings. Pupil K then asked, ‘What did the others think?’ This was a key question
in my research approach. I could have answered her question but instead I said, ‘We
might discuss the recordings in our ‘freedom Friday’ classes.’ Her enthusiastic reply
marked a turning point in my research. It was the beginning of our reflective
discussion
123
124
I now want to return to Table 3.2 in Chapter w h erged
and became central to ot
how my Christian f ddi
to that table (see Table 5.1 below)
aspirations into living standards by which I strive to live and research and wish to
have my res arch j e d f my ms can be
te aga m m of
establishing the validity of o -study
action resear
W ing horizon ly a the le below, I relate each beatitude, or reported
saying of Christ, to my thinking a tian (in the second column). In the third
column I name and gi on of the eight value
Christian commit es as a
standard by which my re
show d epistemologi
that my research addressed and the values and standards listed in previous columns.
T e ate sts ac in my r d some data
gathering te to the values base of my
re ch the y whi again makes
links between my personal Christian b s, and ms of
m se . I cl m ainder
of t on I disc ms
possible
Three, to sho
decisions that I made. That
a
ow my values em
table related
ng two further columns
formed my values and
her methodological
aith informed my values. I am now
to depict how I trans
e
inst
ch methodol
udged. I discuss how th
y values so that I can clai
the living theori
ogy.
vali ity o
m an ethical and legiti
es that I devel
research clai
mate for
p within my self
sted
ork
ing a relationship betw
he p
sear
y re
his secti
tal cross
ve a short descripti
ments. In the four
search can be judge
een the practical ontological an
tab
s a Chris
th column I
s that underpinned my
u
umn I form a question
cal issues
state each of these val
d. In the fifth col
nultim
chnique
and
column li
s that I develope
standards b
tions that
d, again
ch it can b
I took
relating them
e judged. The final
esearch an
column
eliefs
achieved these ai
y and m
and value
ethods that m
the vision and ai
s and in the rem
ade these clai
arch
.
aim in Part Four to have
uss the methodolog
Table 5.1: Showing the derivation of the values informing my research in relation to my research methods and standards of judgement
Christ says, n My embodied
ju
Research issues Action –
gatherin
y
esear
I, as a Christia
say, values
Standards of
dgement
data
g techniques r
Vision – the aims of m
ch
‘Blessed are the
poor in spirit for
theirs is the
kingdom of God.’
towards
life and people
d.’
for self determination
in thought, speech and
action for the good of
D
ways that
demonstrate
freedom?
Can both I as a teacher and
the pupils in my research
have freedom to voice our
own ways of knowing within
s
der ge?
Finding
forms of
painting,
recordin
at
e ab ur
capabilities, which in the
of the pupils are their
abilities to learn and in my
case t
racti
‘Have a nonpossessive

attitude
and know my
need of Go
Freedom – a capacity
oneself and others
o I act in
system
outsi
that value objective,
knowled
present
appropriate
voice such as
drawing, tape
gs, and oral
Th
case
ions.
p
ility to explain o
o develop theory from
ce.
‘Blessed are those
who mourn, for they
shall be comfort-
‘Be touched by
the pain of
others.’ others and demonstrate
e
n I recognise the learned
helplessness of my pupils
and myself?
Learning
one anot
journals
vidu
re d why
one l e does
ed.’
Compassion – a
recognition of my
needs in
other’s needs in me
Do I act in
ways that
Ca
mpathy?
from and with
her such as our
of new
Awa
indi al learning.
ness of how an
earns as on
‘Blessed are the
gentle for they shal
inherit the earth.’
l sensitive is
not a fault.
Counter what is
wrong by doing
ds
D
demonstrate
justice?
Can I a
margina
existing
domina
theory?
ive
g
oping a report of
ared
an
a
ha
nfluence that would
encourage others to engage
in more socially just
learning experiences
‘Reflect that
being
good.’
Justice: a sensitivity to
injustice and a will to
make changes towar
a more just condition
o I act in
ways that
ddress
lisation caused by
provision and
nt propositional
Inclus
learnin
learning
devel
our sh
unde
ways of
such as sharing
strategies,
To
i
rst
dyslexi
ding of
ve an educative
‘Blessed are those
who hunger and
thirst for
righteousness for
they shall be
satisfied.’
ds
nd
justice.’
D
w
de
eq
uestio ant
ogies that generally
e behaviouristic
hing approaches for
se with specific learning
disability (dyslexia)
How do
practice t
equality b
new learning from my
pupils’ research and my
research?
xplo
i between
le, which foster
knowledge generation. I am
developing the kinds of
relationship that avoid
oppression and domination.
‘Work towar
fairness a
Equality – a capacity
for justice and fairness
in all human needs.
o I act in
ays that
monstrate
uality?
Q
pedag
promot
teac
tho
ning domin I change my
o one of greater
ased on my
E
relat
peop
re the nature of
onships
126
Table 5.1 Continued
an sa
Action – data
gathering
techniques
Christ says, I, as a ms
Christi y,
My embodied values Standards of
judgement
Research issues Vision – the ai
of my research
‘Blessed are the
merciful for they
shall obtain mercy.’
‘Make
allowan
because
know th
story.’
ces
I do
e wh
g
Spirals of research
actions, based on th
t eac
stage r than a
definit arrange
ucture
n’t
ole
Forgiveness – a
commitment to gaining
fuller understandings
Do I act in ways that
demonstrate
forgiveness?
Fluid reality
No one right way of knowin e
h
d
To constantly
question my
new learning a understandings
ather
e preresearch
str
‘ Blessed are the
pure in heart for
they shall see God.’
‘Really c
people f
special.’
are. L
eel
re wn
elf and
pupils
t reports
n our
the
es of
ific
et Human Dignity –a
recognition of the capacity
of others and a
demonstration of care for
each and every individual I
encounter
Do I act in ways that
demonstrate human
dignity in an attitude
of celebration and
care?
Pupils’ capacities to learn we
ignored
Valuing
learning
others.
and I pr
and pap
new lear
of o
by s
Both
esen
ers o
ning
A celebration of
learning capaciti
pupils with spec
learning disability
(dyslexia)
‘ Blessed are the
peacemakers, for
they shall be called
children of God.’
‘Build b
Be appr
to all.’
ridge
oacha
ed
to
es
ology of
owledge
ral,
ays
s
s.
ble
Wholeness – an acceptance
and a commitment to the
reconciliation of a plurality
of approaches to life;
mindful of the need to
recognise mind body and
spirit
Do I act in ways that
demonstrate
wholeness?
Engage with issues of how I
come to know and how my
coming to know was inform
by how I helped my children
come to know. Develop an
epistemological stance
commensurate with my valu
New epi
practice.
transfer
collaborative w
stem
Kn
in o
The education of
social formation
‘ Blesses are those
who are persecuted
for righteousness
sake for theirs is the
kingdom of God.’
‘Do wh
even it i
popular
at is r
s not
.

my Val ndards
bec ence in
eva y research
ny
and
ues a
which data can
ome
luati
s sta
evid
ng m
ight Service – act according to
my values and be an
influence for the greater
good regardless of the
personal cost.
Do I act in ways that
demonstrate a
commitment to a
good social order and
the education of
social formations?
Do I live in the direction of
values?
by Towards harmo
between practice
values
The t a linear way
and t g up this
thesis culty in
articu
e but also for those with
hom I come in contact. Three key ideas within my understanding of values are
thodology. Whitehead (2004a) chose his living experiences
s a son, father, husband and scholar to communicate his ontological commitments
or ‘lived values’, when he says,
able above shows that the ideas in my research did not develop in
he linkages this table offers were not obvious until I came to writin
. They were however embodied in what I was doing. I had diffi
lating them in writing, as I wrote about in my journal.
In earlier chapters of my writing, I have talked about myself and the children with
specific learning disability (dyslexia) as products of the dominant education system
and I developed the intention of improving our lot. This intention was informed by
my value of justice and was informed by the vision that I held of the future – a future
where the abilities of individuals with specific learning disability (dyslexia) would
be acknowledged. Values can be understood as the major priorities that I choose to
act on and that can creatively enhance life not only for m
How do I show that my values live in my research?
(5 November 2003 journal, original in data
archive Appendix 2.1d)
w
personal choice, personal action and a personal vision of enhancement; for example
my value of justice involved making choices to challenge the forms of theory and
practice in my context and these choices form part of my research intentions; my
value of justice also requires that I act in ways that demonstrate that value of justice,
within my context, and my research methodology and methods form part of this
action; my vision was a future where my chosen value of justice, in addition to the
other values I hold are demonstrated to be realised in actions – mine and those of
others – so that a more just situation would exist for those children with specific
learning disability (dyslexia), for whom I was concerned.
I have chosen to study my practice and to take action to change it towards my vision
of a situation where the abilities of individuals would be recognised rather than their
disabilities. The writing of Whitehead (2004a) on living theory in self–study action
research resonates with my ideas that articulating and explaining my values are an
essential part of my me
a
In my experience of human existence, every individual I meet is
unique in the particular constellation of values that help to constitute
and explain who they are and what they are doing. Within each
individual I also see values of hope for the future of humanity and the
(Whitehead 2004a, p.1)
and my values, I adopted a two-part
pproach. First my research was based on practical principles about teaching and
n my epistemological values. The practical principles were
logy of educational enquiry to bring the embodied
knowledge of practitioners into the academy. She suggests a two-pronged approach
to achieve this in which, first, practical principles, understood as embodied values,
are used to explain le al values,
und ew
sch
researc aims of moral education. In doing so the ontological
ositioning of educational research would be as Whitehead (2004a), following the
potential to express values that do not carry this hope.

Whitehead is also describing his values in terms of actions, vision and personal
contexts. I have learned from Whitehead that values and lived experiences can be
linked within a methodology of self-study action research. In the final part of the
quotation above, I believe Whitehead (2004a) points to another significant issue,
which I discovered during the course of my research, that self-study action research
is not necessarily a celebratory narrative. I learned to question, Could I be wrong? I
did so in order to justify the actions I was taking and to consider the possibility that
my values may be misguided: an idea which Whitehead (2004a) suggests when he
states that the individual has ‘the potential to express values that do not carry [this]
hope’ for the future of humanity (Whitehead 2004a, p.1).
To explain the links between my research
a
learning and second o
guided by my embodied values that informed the choices I made, the actions I took
and my vision for the future. My epistemological values are the embodiment of my
commitments to particular forms of knowledge. Farren (2005) claims, similarly, to
have created a new epistemo
arning and/or practice; second, epistemologic
erstood as living standards of evaluation, are used as the epistemology for a n
olarship of educational enquiry. I am arguing that good quality educational
h should follow the
p
ideas of Naidoo, states:
128
Enhancing the flow of love and respect for self and for others, in the
n of ourselves and the social formations in which we work and
uld do much to ensure that we leave the world a better place
than when we came into it.
ead 2004a, p.11)
y choice of methodology is a moral choice based on the values that I hold and that
how practitioners questioned the basis of their work. Carr
d Kemmis (1986) also advocate a professionalism that resonates with human
educatio
live, wo
(Whiteh
M
I have explained above as justice, freedom, compassion, equality, human dignity,
wholeness and service. I have posed a practical research question that required a
methodology to address both the actions needed and also the philosophical ideas that
influenced the form of my research question. I have explained those philosophical
ideas in terms of the values I hold in Chapters Three and Four. This idea of a
research method to address the philosophical questions of practitioners is how
Loughran et al. (2004) described the development of self-study action research. Selfstudy
action research seemed to me to have a moral focus as its lineage. The works
of Carr and Kemmis (1986), Elliott (1991), McNiff (2002), Whitehead (1993) and
Zeichner (1999) all show
an
emancipation, according to Noffke (1997).
~ Testing my claims
I now want to discuss the links between my research methods and the core values
that I have articulated in Tables 3.2 and 5.1. I show how this enables me to generate
evidence from my data to test its validity in support of my claims to knowledge. I set
this out in the following way
I state the values and standard of judgement
I provide an example of practice of the enactment of each value
I analyse the data excerpt in relation to my values and standard of judgement
I explain how I have used this data as evidence to establish the validity of my
claim to knowledge
Here is an example of how I use this procedure. I take the value of freedom as an
example.
129
Freedom as a value and standard of judgement
I am asking
An example of the enactment of this value in my research was when I found
ice for my pupils so that they could become co-researchers
tors in my research. One example of taped and transcribed
Chapter Two, where they
disc s
availab
voice, e example where a pupil drew his feelings about coming to my
reso c
how co
learn so

I now w
my clas
process and then testing my
clai
Taking the exa
feelings about specific learning disability (dyslexia) through art, I describe and
explain how I generated evidence from it. In a resource or support teaching setting,
Do I act in ways that demonstrate freedom?
(5 September 2003 journal, original in data
archive, see Appendix 2.1d)
appropriate forms of vo
and co-knowledge crea
conversations between my pupils and class teachers, in
us the teacher’s practice of questioning pupils, shows a freedom that was not
le prior to my research. Artwork was another method I used to facilitate pupil
as in th
ur e classes, which I have placed in Chapter Two. In his picture the pupil depicts
ming to resource class lightens up his day and rejoices that ‘at least I will
mething there.’
ant to explain the methodological process of moving from data, gathered in
sroom, to generating evidence to test the validity of my research claims. This
involves generating evidence to support my claims
ms and theories at various levels: (a) personal, (b) social and (c) institutional.
mple above, when I allowed pupils the freedom to depict their
artwork is not part of the curriculum. I chose art first because I believe that many of
the pupils in my research had a talent for art and second because they could possibly
express themselves more easily in that medium than in writing. I saw art as a
celebration of pupils’ apparent talent. My choice was influenced by my value of
respect for the whole person as well as an appreciation of the pupils’ capabilities. In
Section Four I demonstrate how the pupils’ oral explanations of their artwork and
their discussions about it generated new knowledge about how children with specific
learning disability (dyslexia) have individual and significant understandings of that
term. Freedom and respect were the values that influenced my actions and my
selection of the pupils’ artwork. I have chosen this specific data to justify and test
130
my provisional claim that I am realising values of freedom and respect for the
individual in my practice. Freedom and respect are among the living standards by
which I want to have my work judged. In judging my work I ask whether this data
demonstrates freedom and respect for the individual in my practice. My actions
pport my claim that I respect pupils with specific learning difficulties and have
iven them freedom within my practice to express their own thinking.
alidation procedures
) Personal validation
tested my claims first at a personal level in three ways:
o I have argued my conviction about the importance of freedom and respect for
rch throughout this
thesis;
cally reflected on
ents, exam exist in
erred to in this thesis such as when I asked, ‘Can I act for my
y te freed
ese I morally st
u ning experience for the pupils with
ty (
ce d convi
o I sh
of v ch w hat
ss n between the pupils who participated in my
th a critique
s betwe and pupils’ peers and teaching staff; and
colleagues, resource colleagues and
versity. I taped and transcribed many
and listed in Appendix 2. Tab
of how I developed confidence in my values and convic ting upon them
nd asking others to critique what I had done. Rather than asking, ‘Do you agree that
ese data are evidence of my values of respect and freedom in action?’ I gave
su
g
V
(a
I
the capabilities of the pupils who participated in my resea
o I have demonstrated in journal extracts how I have criti
these commitm
have already ref
ples of which the self-questioning that I
pupils?’; ‘Do I act in wa s that demonstra om?’; ‘How do I show that
my values live in my r and ethically taken the be
steps to improve the q
specific learning disabili
o I have shown confiden
and by opening them t
arch?’; ‘Have
ality of lear
dyslexia) in my research?’
ctions by acting upon them
ow in the example below
in my values an
public critique as
alidating my resear
(Table 5.2).
Part of the practical process as open-ended critique t
rch this form of
began in the reflective discu io
research and myself. During e course of my rese
developed into discussion en pupils
between myself and teaching
colleagues at the uni
teaching
of these conversations and
le 5.2 below is an example
tions by ac
they are in my data archive
a
th
131
another resource teacher, an art therapist and a counsellor the transcribed
able 5.2: Transcript of part of group discussion on artwork
conversations and invited their written comments. In Table 5.2 we are discussing
Picture 5.1 below in which Pupil B had drawn his feelings about his learning
difficulties.
Picture 5.1: Pupil B’s feelings about his learning difficulties
T
Actual words used in
discussion
My Comments Triangulation comments –
other professionals
Me: Would you like to share
with us any ideas?
Pupil B: I put a kind of border
around it for the glitter. I done
the outside and what I feel like in
the inside. I’m having a party and
there’s the balloons and all that.
And then there’s the teacher on
the outside. I put all red on the
outside of the picture and all nice
colours on the inside.
Me: Is the Teacher in the red bit?
Pupil B: Yea.
Me: Why did you put him in
I used gestures.
Error in verb.
Good visual
description.
Colour matched
feelings.
Pupil B could say he
felt like nice colours
and represent teacher
in dangerous red.

Yours was an open question.
Pupils had the freedom to
answer in any way they
liked
The colours and shapes tell
a lot. Joy, yellow. Red, fear.
He is cocooned in the circle
of light colours for safety.
Worrying disclosure by this
pupil. You would not be
likely to hear them from
there?
Pupil I don’t like him.
Pupil keep the teacher
out?
Pupil
everyt
Me: I
just a
Pupil
him. It is great that he is
free to talk them out with
someone like you.
hard
Could they try paint with no
brushes for deeper feelings
B: Cause
K: Just to
B: Yea, just to keep
hing bad away from me.
s that teacher all teachers or
particular one?
Pupil K understood the
meaning. School must be very
for them.
B: Em, most of them.
next time?
132
(b) So
This d form of
valida pening
my re his group included two critical friends.
We m y. They acted as both encouraging friends and as critics
famil ut this
thesis. A validation group of a minimum of five people from an educational
ackground, and who had a good knowledge of self-study action research, listened
I now want to give an example of social validation and legitimisation in relation to
m, in Chapter Eight, to have developed a living theory of learning to teach
ith specific learning disability (dyslexia). As
the opportunity to speak about my work at the resource
hers’ meeting in X on (date). I would be interested in your critical
comments on the following in order to clarify whether my work is of
cial Validation
format above also provides a form of social validation; the secon
tion that I have established. Social validation in my research is about o
search up to a wider group to critique. T
et at least monthl
iar with my research. Some of their comments are sprinkled througho
b
to my work at various stages and commented on its merit and the acceptability of my
claims. This group met five/six times yearly during the course of my research. Work
colleagues also acted as critics and evaluators of my research. The final form of
social validation that I have included in this thesis consists of comments from
resource teachers who work in other schools.
my clai
for social justice, in relation to pupils w
part of my validation process the questionnaire below was completed by seven
resource teachers, directors and two programme co-ordinators of workshops,
affiliated to the Dyslexia Association of Ireland, for pupils with dyslexia. These
questionnaires (sample below) were completed following a presentation of my
research evidence in support of my claim to have developed a new living theory of
teaching for social justice for pupils with specific learning disability (dyslexia),
which I claim was a more socially just approach than what was currently available.
Dear B,
Thanks for
teac
value to others:
Was anything in the content new to you?
What did I omit that you think that I should have spoken about?
What good practices, in similar lines, have you personally used?
133
Do you think that the approach that I used in my work is relevant for
resource teachers, for learning support teachers
and why?
or for class teachers
Please feel free to write more comments than the space here permits. If
) Institutional validation
003 and 2005). At
these presentations, as I will describe in Chapter Nine, I sought the validation of my
research from an educati
attended the mbodied values
within my research, similar to the example at (a) above. Samples of these emails are
in Chapter Seven, Eight and Nine. By submitting this thesis I am seeking the
gitimation of my research by the academy. The criteria by which it will be judged
iginal claim to
you would prefer, just let’s have a chat.
Thanks, Caitríona
(Complete sample in Appendix 7.3, originals in data archive Appendix
2.9)
The question ‘Did you learn anything new?’ was asking if the new knowledge I
claimed was in fact new to those who are in the practical field of my research on a
daily basis. All respondents answered yes, and went on to describe the new
knowledge for them (See Appendix 2.9). In asking, ‘Would you use any of my ideas
that you heard today?’ I received in writing confirmation from all respondents that
what I was claiming should be believed and incorporated into public thinking (see
Appendix 2.9).
(c
Institutional validation took the form of presenting my research to university staff
and students at both invited and public conferences (McDonagh 2
onal research community. I received emails from some who
conferences, which stated that they recognised my e
le
include both the criteria of the University of Limerick for a PhD and the criteria
specific to my research in which I am claiming to have developed a living theory of
practice.
The criteria of the University of Limerick for a PhD require an or
knowledge. In addition, I have outlined the criteria on which I base my claim to have
developed a living theory of practice in practical terms in Section One and in terms
of my ontological commitments and embodied values in this chapter. In the
remaining sections of this thesis, I show that I have tested my data against these
134
values, which I identify as my living standards of judgement, in order to generate
evidence to support and test my claim to knowledge.
~ My understanding of self-study action research
Returning to the metaphorical mirror in which I am framing my methodological
hoices, I am stating that my self-study action research is grounded in my articulated
alues. I am now asking, ‘How can they been seen in the mirror?’ First, the reason
at I looked in the mirror in order to scrutinise that what was happening to both the
upils in my hat I have
entified ab who were
arginalised m
order to change their situation; a respect for the capacities of each individuals; a
eed to afford others the freedom to develop their identities and capacities; and a
esire for equality. My work and research were driven by those values. They were
o learning and knowledge,
bility (dyslexia)
focused on both the pupils whom I taught and on myself it was
nec a
my pup
~ E
In this
respect stice, equality
and service, I demonstrate my awareness of the ethical issues of involving pupils
between the ages of nine and twelve years as co-researchers. This requires an
c
v
th
p research and myself was a realisation of the eight values t
id ove. These values included a wish for justice for those
m by the education system; a desire to care for them; a wish to serve the
in
n
d
the living standards by which I was working and so they also became the living
standards by which I judge the quality of my research.
Now, in the remainder of this thesis, I am asking the reader, if, in my research, I
have demonstrated these values as I have engaged with issues of
o teaching and learning for those with specific learning disa
who participated in my research and
o social justice in my research .
Because my research
ess ry to ensure that these values also permeated the ways in which I dealt with
ils as co-researchers.
thical issues of engaging with young people as co-researchers
section I explain how I claim to have acted ethically. As part of my value of
for the individual and my values of freedom, compassion, ju
135
und t
(Unive
method ch was carried out ‘with’ rather than ‘on’ pupils with
spe
on my
The research ethic of respect for persons focuses on the value
ers anding of the concepts, which inform university ethical committee guidelines
rsity of Limerick 2006) and developing these guidelines to include the
ology in which resear
cific learning disability (dyslexia). I am making claims that my research is based
values and I am asking, as I did in my journal,
Because my research topic and methodology involved pupils aged nine to twelve
years as research participants, important ethical issues arose about securing
participants’ informed consent and the protection of the identities of these research
participants. Because of my belief in respect for the individual, I complied with what
Bassey (1990) describes as a good research ethic when he said,
Have I acted ethically and have I morally taken the
best steps to improve the quality of learning
experience for the pupils with specific learning
disability (dyslexia) in my research?
(2 February 2003 Journal See Appendix 2.1d)
judgement that a researcher, in taking and using data from a person,
should do so in a way which respects that person as a fellow human
being who is entitled to dignity and privacy.
(Bassey 1990, p.18)
In practical terms, I
o obtained permission for my research from all the participants as well as my
school principal and school Board of Management. Samples of permission
documentation are in Appendix 1.2 to 1.4
o negotiated access and found ways to keep all those involved informed about
how the research was progressing through on-going conversations. These
were noted in my journal entries (See Appendix 2.1a to 2.1.d)
136
o promised confidentiality and did not name my workplace as pupils or other
individuals could be identified from it. This is included in the permission
forms in Appendix 1
o ensured that all participants could withdraw at any time. There are samples
of this in the permission forms in Appendix 1.3 to 1.4
o retained my right to report my findings in good faith.
These ethical conditions for my research are included in my ethical statement in
Appendix 1.1. The programmes, tests and evidence of learning of the 24 pupils took
ace as part of their normal school work. I informed them that our discussions, tapebout
the children or colleagues would be made public (See
mple in Appendix 1.1). The parents were asked to agree that their child’s work
could ed that all
contri
Inform mittee
and for me. We differed on our understandings of informed consent in that the
e parents’ permission signed beneath by the pupils was
quired (see revised Consent form Appendix 1.3b). However, I held that the sample
management that
a pupil did not want to be involved in my research another resource teacher would
teach them. Thus there would be no detrimental effect to their education. Second the
pl
recordings and learning journals would help me with new ideas for classes. I gave
information on my studies and research report to my Board of Management,
Principal, colleagues, other professionals, and the pupils and their parents, first
individually and orally and then followed by the ethical statement above. As a
guarantee of confidentiality, the ethical statement signed by me gave them details of
my work and I negotiated access with the firm understanding that nothing of a
personal nature either a
sa
be used as part of my research. The procedures above demonstrat
butions were dealt with in ‘dignity and privacy’ (Bassey 1990)
ed pupil consent became an issue for both the university ethical com
committee held that th
re
pupil consent form (see Appendix 1.3a) had appropriate language for them, as was
the case for others from whom consent was sought. My consent forms were given to
the pupils to take home to parents in whose presence the pupils signed them. The
parents’ ethical statement and consent form went home at the same time. I believe
my approach was respectful and removed many power issues. First pupils might not
have had the power to refuse consent if the forms were signed in school, as the
research was to take place in class. I had negotiated with the school
if
137
University suggestion, where the language of the form was inappropriate to the
pupils’ age and reading levels, in my opinion left the possibility open that parents
might give their permission for their child to take part without any explanation to the
child of why they had given consent. The legal approach of the University withdrew
from pupils their ability to give consent and required that my ethical statement and
consent form be addressed to parents, signed by them and co-signed by pupils. I
complied with this requirement but in addition I continued to get oral and written
onsent from my pupils (See Appendix 1.3b and 1.3c). All pupils invited to join my
cal stance that I adopted at the beginning of my research. These
uidelines require that
informed consent is obtained from the parents/guardians of children
under 18 and
c
research accepted, as did their parents (Forms in data archive see Appendix 1).
I maintain that my values are at the core of my ethical stance and my methodology.
The methodology that I have chosen holds the essence of what sustains me in my
work as a resource teacher of pupils with specific learning disability (dyslexia).
Recently the ethical requirements of the university have changed (University of
Limerick 2006) and now include Child Protection Guidelines that are commensurate
with the ethi
g
from the children themselves. Children need to be
informed in appropriate language so that they understand the research
they are being asked to participate in.
(University of Limerick 2006, 11.2)
5.5 Summary
To summarise this chapter, I set out to find ways to show how I could take actions to
challenge the ways in which both my pupils and I had been systemically
disadvantaged. I picture the understanding that I have come to of my self-study
action research methodology as a light. When the light came on, I could move from
my feelings of learned helplessness when teaching pupils with specific learning
disability (dyslexia). The light shone and enabled me to see the metaphorical mirror
in which I watched my journey to choosing my research methods.
138
Initi nly
me as the researcher in focus. Having decided on a methodology that supported a
ual focus on me and on the pupils in my research, I next saw my pupils and myself
oulder in the mirror during my data collection processes.
ally I found research approaches that ignored the pupils in my research with o
d
standing shoulder to sh
Others joined us at the mirror as the data was converted to evidence. Then crash. I
went into and through the mirror. In this way I could check with those on the other
side of the mirror that what I had seen was legitimate and valid.
The light that was self-study action research brought my pupils and me out of the
darkness of our marginalisation within the education system. I describe in the next
chapter how the light lit the way so that my pupils and I could share our new
learning within its beams. It was also a light for sharing with the wider community
as I show in the remainder of this thesis. In Chapter Six that follows I explain the
practical methods that comprised my methodology as I took action to overcome the
disadvantage experienced by my pupils and me and transform it into new forms of
opportunity.
139
CHAPTER SIX: Explanations and justifications for my action research
my
ther side of the two-way mirror and reflect on how I see
his chapter is in two sections. First I produce data to show that I have taken action
into new forms of opportunity. I
xplain how I have selected data from the monitoring of the teaching and learning
for
nd found a methodology to depict my learning, my pupils’ learning and our
methodology
6.1 Introduction
I have described in Chapter Five my search for an appropriate research
methodology. In this chapter I focus on offering explanations and justifications for
my choice of methodology. I use the analogy of a mirror to explain the nature of my
research process – a two-way mirror where I am simultaneously on both sides. From
one side of the mirror I act and develop new understandings in relationship with
pupils. I cross to the o
myself as acting and developing new understandings in relationship with my pupils.
Finally and more importantly I smash the mirror and move into an integrated reality
by questioning and testing what I have seen and understood with those children who
were participating in my research, with their peers and with my peers – teachers,
resource teachers, psychologists who work in education, and researchers. The testing
and questioning continues as I make my research public in academic presentations at
conferences.
T
to overcome the systemic disadvantage in which my pupils and I have been placed.
Second I show how I transform that disadvantage
e
processes of my everyday work. My data gathering challenged the idea that data
exists only in the form of definitive targets that were achieved or could be achieved
in the future (Elliott 1991, p.51). Instead I show how I have gathered data from
continuous questioning of my work and my pupils’ work.
A linear research structure could not achieve this, so I describe how I searched
a
learning relationships. I examine how the five key data gathering processes that I
engaged in supported the epistemological and ontological values-base of my
research. I show how my triangulation processes (Bassey 1999, p.47) and validation
processes demonstrated the relational nature of knowledge co-creation.
140
In practical terms I show how I took action to put strategies in place to help my
pupils to come to their own understandings of how they learn. I encouraged them to
under llective of
resear tively,
as we lear
actice. I tested my methods against the
m of research that provided opportunities to
evious knowledge and learning and offered a new methodology for the
sability to come to value their ways of learning; that
heoretical.
In the previous chapter I have explained my methodology as inclusive and
participative, which has demonstrated my epistemological value of prioritising
personal knowledge (Polanyi 1958). My methods have also demonstrated my
willingness to have my provisional understanding critiqued at multiple levels by
take action enquiries into how they learn. We now formed a co
chers who were all researching our practice individually and collabora
ned from one another. My research became reciprocal, and my context
became one of a community of research pr
aims of my research to ensure that, at each step of my research, I was addressing my
concerns in a way that was commensurate with the values-base of my research.

I conclude that I have adopted a for
challenge pr
field of specific learning disability (dyslexia). I have researched in ways that enabled
pupils with specific learning di
provided methods for the creation of knowledge within teacher–pupil relationships;
and that those ways demonstrate the existence of educative relationships. This is a
methodology that permitted me to become part of contributing to a just system of
teaching and learning for pupils with specific learning disability (dyslexia).
6.2 The structure and processes of my research: showing that I have taken
action to overcome methodological difficulties
As is the nature of self–study action research, my research is ongoing even today.
For the purpose of writing this thesis, however, I fixed a date, June 2005, after which
I did not include any more data gathered from my classes. Up to that date, the new
learning of both my pupils and myself forms the basis of my research claims. I now
want to state how I selected certain pieces of data for inclusion in this thesis and how
this data became evidence of my claims that were both practical and t
141
pupils, peers and academics. In this way I continued to critique my methods and
ndings. I did not expect to produce definite solutions. I agree with Elliott that,
When values define the ends of a ends should not be
viewed as concrete objects or targets fectly realised at
some future point in time.
(Elliott 1991, p.51)
o the first part of this chapte ab practical difficulties of
athering data in a living classro in order to generate my living theory of
ractice. I begin this story by telling how I generated evidence from the raw data of
y work in my classes.
How I gathered data and hel ed my pupils come to their own understandings
f how they learn
used many data gathering techniques in my research and my choice of methods
rew in variety to facilitate the new knowledge I was generating. A variety of
arch methodologies according to Stronach
prearranged or confined to cycles; instead they were
developmental and transformational in the following way.
fi
practice, such
, which can be per
S r is out overcoming the
g om situation
p
m
~ p
o
I
g
methods is not unusual in action rese
(2003), who suggests that there are as many forms of data gathering as there are
researchers using action research methodologies. He speaks of a segmented-orange
approach to data gathering, where the researcher divides research into segments or
cycles and finds different yet appropriate approaches for each cycle. Another form of
data gathering that he describes is an ‘onion’ approach where layers can be peeled
away. In this approach the researcher begins with one approach and as each layer of
action reveals further questions, further data gathering methods are added as
required. I visualise my data gathering approach as a living and growing onion rather
than as peeling an onion. I am using the metaphor of a growing onion to explain that
my methods were not
142

Figure 6.1: Lay
Within my onio of
currently availab
profiles, which I h
pupil. These pro the Learning Support Guidelines
reland, Depart ent of Education and Science 2000). The originals are in my data
ers of data gathering
n metaphor, at its tiny centre was the logging and investigation
le information on the pupils I taught. This took the form of pupil
compiled at the beginning of the first year of my research for eac
files were based on a format in
Questionnaires
Audio/video-tap
transcripts
es and
Discussions and reports
Art
(I m
archive (see sample in Appendix 6.1). These profiles presented a picture of each
pupil that was based first, on objective norm referenced tests; and second, on factual
information about the pupil and his or her other learning attainments. Here is such a
profile, as an example.
Journals
Strategies
Profiles
143
Table 6.1: Pupil profile
Name M
Date of Birth 18.08.90
Sex Male
Class 6 th
Educational Test Date Results
Assessment by WISC May 1997 Upp
psychologist
D 9
Non-verbal ahead of verbal.
WOR May 1 e s
WRAT 16.09.98
er limit of the low average range.
p s
Co sion
Word Recognitio entile
Sp 7th percentile
A ic perce
97 R
S
ading
elling
mprehen
elling
6.0 year
6.6 year
6.0 years
n 10th perc
rithmet 16th ntile
Test Date Results
Drumcondra
Primary Reading
Test
19.12.01 Vocabulary 32nd
Comprehension 16th
l Readin 23rd percentile
percentile
percentile
Tota g score
Drumcondra
Primary
Test
.02 l score 19th
Maths
23.05 Tota percentile
Standardised
tests
administered
rked
ss
ers
Drumcondra
Primary Reading
Test
.02 bulary 30th p
Comprehension 37th percentile
rd percentile
and ma
by cla
teach
15.12 Voca ercentile
Total Reading score 35
Family and
educational
ory
M is fr amily w istor ecific lea ifficu
He has not repeated any class. He received learning support
of 4 to ls for 2 and 3 tes wee Sept 1996 to
Sept 2 Spring the Pho al Aw
Training Programme by J Wilson (details in proposal) for 20 weeks. I
believe this intervention programme caused his improvements on the
hist
om a f ith a h y of sp rning d lties.
in a group
6 pupi hours 0 minu kly from
000. In 2001 he followed nologic areness
Drumcondra Reading Test. I can also evidence this with pre- and postintervention
testing on the Jackson Phonic Skills Tests.
M attended speech therapy in 1998. I was his learning support teacher
and became his Resource Teacher in September 2001. He has no
known hearing or visual problems.
The next layer of the onion represents data about the form of teaching he was
receiving. I gathered information on six intervention strategies and alternative
therapies that my pupils with specific learning disability (dyslexia) were receiving at
the beginning of my research. This included data from the programmes themselves
and from our reflections on them. I have listed and described these strategies and
therapies in Appendix 4.1. I examined these strategies from my perspective as well
as from my pupils’, and have already discussed my learning from these programmes
Chapter Four. The pupils’ achievements were noted on individual pupil record
sheets (samples in Appendix 4.2). In discussions the pupils expressed a preference
in
144
for the MTSR record sheets (Johnson et al. 1999) because they were allowed to
comment on their own learning, as shown in the sample below.
Table 6.2: Pupil Record Sheet
MTSR (UK Edition) BOOK 1: Pupil Record Sheet
Pupil Name: Date of birth:
Teaching Lesson Introduced Revised Removed Check
point No. from
regular
review
ed
for
mastery
Pupil
comment
Symbols 1 Date Date Date Date Hard to
remember
but I got
them all
Words 2 Date Date Date Date Easy
Sounds 3 Date Date Date Date Amasin but
easy
Initial,
middle,
final
4 Date Date Date Date Good fun
i = (ĭ) 5 Date Date Date Date Hard to
remember
t = (t) 6 Date Date Date Date Easy
Blending 7 Date Date Date Date Tough
Because the pupils seemed to enjoy reflecting on their learning attainments, I
ncouraged them to record other things that they learned and how they learned them
reflective journals. The following is a sample from one pupil’s journal who wrote
. I say it in me hed [head]. When she let me do it I rmebr
emember] it all I bake it mesel [myself]. She wates [watches] but I do it
risen from our reflective journaling, and these became layers
four and five.
e
in
on Monday, April 2002, ‘I can mack [make] a Piz[z]a. I watched my mam everytime
she mak [makes] them
[r
mysef.[myself].’ The pupils’ journals and my own reflective journal formed the third
layer of the onion. Building on the usefulness of our reflective journals, which both
the pupils and I kept during each year of my study (see Appendices 2.1), I found
more forms of data gathering to demonstrate my thinking and my pupils’ thinking
and the issues that had a
145
146
layers four and five of the onion, I continued to make our individual thinking
public. These data include pupils’ drawings, paintings, reports, and taped and
tr data
a roughout Parts Four and Five of this thesis. The examples below show how
th ngs
and personal thinking about specific learning disability (dyslexia).
eir group projects and discussions were a further development on their reflections
In
anscribed discussions with others in our school context. Examples of all these
ppear th
e drawings, paintings and group projects were reflections of the pupils’ feeli
Pictures 6.1 and 6.2: Showing how pupils reflected on specific learning
disability (dyslexia)
Th
when they began to generate new ideas about dyslexia and their learning. The
example below shows how I contributed to their discussions by transcribing them
and annotating the transcripts on occasion to facilitate revisiting their reflections as
often as they wished.
W said
I think it’s easy to spell, if you go by the sounds of the words. a, e, W
unds of letters).
el sounds in it, how many bits. And
try to learn to spell it. 123 1234 (Pupil G drew the numbers to indicate
rned how to spell by rhyming the words.
i, o, u (Pupil
wrote vowels to indicate so
G said
I learn a word by first try to count how many vow
then I start to
counting)
J said, I lea (rhymners)
C said, I learned the words by going one bit after another.
H, C and F said, I learned the words by learning them off by heart.
ieces.
three times and saying it three times, then
R said, I learned the big words by breaking them up into p
L said. I learn the words by looking at it
writing it three times.
K said, It is hard to get spellings right
rning spe
The next onion layer represents further data that I gathered in the form of
hotographs, audio and video-taping and transcripts, reflective group discussions
ith pupils, class teaching colleagues, resource teaching colleagues and learning
thesis.
d a sample Questionnaire Two completed by teachers and
ainstream class peers. This followed the presentation by pupils who participated in
y research, of their reports, explaining specific learning disability (dyslexia) to
emselves and others.
B said, We all have different ways of lea llings
p
w
colleagues at the University of Limerick. Samples of these data appear in later
sections of this

Finally, I am at the outer layer of the onion. Pupils and teachers in my school who
did not participate in my research completed questionnaires, examples of which are
below, that provided evidence of changes in my teaching, in pupils’ learning and in
the attitudes of those others in our school context. Below I have placed a sample of
Questionnaire One completed by mainstream classes about specific learning
disability (dyslexia) an
m
m
th
147
Questionnaire One – (Original in Appendix 2.7 see also Appendix 7.1)
Questionnaire Two – (Original in Appendix 2.8; see also Appendix 7.1)
What did you learn about dyslexia? Responses
What other questions do you have?
~ A methodology to depict my learning, pupils’ learning and learning
elationships
he research methods that I have outlined are linked at many levels. Initially I
ought that the simplest way to portray this was in the form of a time-line. By
owing when various layers of data gathering occurred, I thought that I could
xplain my research as three one-year cycles of research. I have placed one of these
me line diagrams on the following page. This linear presentation of my research did
ot portray the multiple levels of linkages between my learning and my pupils’
arning relationships.
What does it mean to be intelligent? Responses
Are students with learning difficulties dumb?
Should boys and girls tell their friends a ut their learning
difficulty?
bo
Can you tell if someone in your class is a lazy student and
is struggling to learn?
Whose responsibility is it to help a boy or girl who is
having difficulty learning in school?
r
T
th
sh
e
ti
n
le
148
Year One – the first cohort of eight pupils
Drew up
prearch

profiles
Figure 6.2: Year One research time-line
rese
pils
of
pu
Taught and
aluated
mmerciallyoduced
ogrammes
r pupils
ith specific
arning
disability
yslexia)
ev
co
pr
pr
fo
w
le
(d
Questionnaires
completed by 120 pupils
in mainstream classes on
their attitudes to learning
disabilities
Facilitated
an action
research
project by
pupils on
‘how I learn
spellings?’
Encouraged
pupils’ talents in
art by expressing
their
understanding of
dyslexia
Taped pupils’
dialogues (avoiding
pupils’ difficulties in
reading and writing)
on how dyslexia
affects them and
treatments they had
received for dyslexia
Developed
To counter low selfesteem,
pupils were
encouraged to research
famous people with
learning difficulties
pupils’
computer
skills so that
they could
produce a
project titled
‘Explaining
Dyslexia to
Ourselves and
Others’
including their
work to date
Pupils were
given
opportunities
to present
their project
orally to
twenty
teachers
(whole school
staff)
One teacher
gave a pupil
from his class,
who was part of
my research, the
opportunity to
present his
project to his
peers in his
mainstream
class
Pupils kept
personal journals
naming things
they had learned
and how they
learned them
149
I believe that the visual representation below of my research communicates the
e pupils and I learned together and as
wledge.
richness and the interrelated nature of all the strands in my research project. Each
yellow or orange section represents key research methods/actions. Personal
knowledge and knowledge created in reflective dialogue and communicated in our
journals, are at the heart of my non-linear methodology.
Figure 6.3: Links and interactions as th
I tested my claims to new kno
Commercial
programmes Pupil profiling
Reflective
discussions
Photos and
videos
Our Journals
Pupils’
Reports
‘Explaining
dyslexia to
ourselves
and others’
Artwork
Questionnaires
Pupils’ action
research spellings
150
An l
The figure on the previous page is similar to the generative-action-reflection spiral
that
offers d
resonat this chapter where I explained the generative
dev p
generat mational action has relevance for my research methods because
their main focus was on improving the quality of learning experience of the pupils
ith specific learning disability (dyslexia) that I taught, yet my research has raised
orms of theory and forms of research;
is
1988, p.45)
6.3
pupils ity
The the diagram above are linked
at many levels. By finding a way to articulate these linkages I hope that I have
d it. The interconnected, relational representation of my research
exp anation of Figure 6.3
McNiff developed (McNiff 1988, 1993 and 2000). The visual metaphor she
epicts the idea that action research is generative and transformational. This
es with the previous part of
elo ment of my layers of data gathering. McNiff’s (1988) explanation of
ive transfor
w
issues of epistemology, ontology, f

Generative action research enables a teacher-researcher to address
many different problems at one time without losing sight of the main
sue
(McNiff
How I plan to transform the systemic disadvantage of myself and my
into new forms of opportun
seven research methods that I have highlighted in
countered the difficulties of the linear presentation of my enquiry as I had first
conceptualise
demonstrated links and interactions as the pupils and I learned together. Pupil
profiling and commercial programmes were part of a different epistemological
perspective and made very few links with other areas in my research. As I have said
before, they offered little to my practice. In my diagram there are on-going arrows,
depicting opportunities for future learning, travelling out to the edge of the page.
In this section I look at the potential of each of these key research methods to aid the
transformation of the failures in my context as I explained them in Sections One and
Two. I then question if my methodological choice addresses the aims that I had
chosen for my research which were
151
o To show how my pupils can come to value what they know and how they
profile at the end of each research year or when new data
ecame available from any of the other sources. This expansion of pupil profiles did
ot happen because I realised that this form of data was gathered via a scientific
ethodology where an outsider shows change as objectively measurable. This
ethodology positions the pupil as an object that can be measured, and ignores the
holeness of the individual and their capabilities as thinkers in their own right. The
ata I gathered on intervention strategies is another example of similar forms of
nowledge and again I did not repeat this part of my research with the second or
ird cohorts of pupils because of clashes between the positivist forms of knowledge
in which they were grounded and the values base of my research.
come to know it;
o To explore the nature of relationships between people which foster
knowledge creation, and to develop the kinds of relationship that avoid
oppression and domination;
o To become part of contributing to social justice through my educative
influence.
~ Five key methods
There were five key data gathering processes named in the diagram above and I now
want to explain them and the purpose of each method in my research methodology.
(1) Logging and investigating currently available information on the pupils in
each cohort;
(2) Enabling pupils to become self-study action researchers
(3) Reflective group discussions between pupils, class teaching colleagues,
resource teaching colleagues, research colleagues and a validation group at
the University of Limerick;
(4) Photography, audio and video taping;
(5) Questionnaires to gather evidence of change.
(1) Logging and investigating currently available information on the pupils in
each cohort
A sample of the pupil profiles that I developed appears earlier in this chapter. I had
planned to update each
b
n
m
m
w
d
k
th
152
(2) Enabling pupils to become self-study action researchers
In contrast to the two methods that I described above, where knowledge was
nderstood as reifiable, measurable and objective, I now want to explain a method
de
iscussion and triangulation and will now describe how this
lowing the agreement of all the pupils in each cohort
ese individual tape recordings were shared and listened to by all pupils in each
be improved?’ (14 October 2001 journal, see Appendix 2.1b); ‘Can
metacognition aid the learning process?’ (6 February 2002 journal, see Appendix
n metacognition be developed?’ (14 December 2003 journal,
also posed questions about the methods I was
u
that monstrated knowledge as both personal and created in relationship with
others. I had shared with the pupils who participated in my research my methods of
journaling, reflection, d
enabled them to become self-study action researchers. Their research is written into
this thesis in the next section and they have given oral accounts of it to staff and to
their class peers in my school. Their research question was, ‘How do I learn
spellings?’ They recorded on audio-tape (see Appendix 2.4), under my supervision,
their strategies for learning spellings individually. They listened to, reflected on, and
added to their recordings. Fol
th
cohort. They questioned without prompt from me, ‘What do you think about how
others learn spellings?’ and ‘Could you use any of their ideas?’ The pupils gained an
awareness of different learning styles and strategies. Pupils suggested researching, or
as they called it ‘trying out’, each other’s ways of learning and individually recorded
the effectiveness of three different learning strategies. Their research opened further
questions for my research, which I noted in my journal such as ‘Can long term
memory
2.1b); ‘In what ways ca
see Appendix 2.1d). Their research
using such as,
How could I protect m
(2 Octoberl 2001
Transcripts are time c
use of them?’
(4 February 20
y pupils’ anonymity?
Journal, see Appendix 2.1b)
onsuming ‘How can I make best
02 Journal, see Appendix 2.1b)
153
These questions are indicative of how my research methods were developmental and
rooted in the new knowledge that was being created in the relationships with pupils,
teaching colleagues, University colleagues and critical friends.
(3) Reflective group discussions between pupils, class teaching colleagues,
resource teaching colleagues, research colleagues and a validation group at the
University of Limerick
Reflective group discussions were used as a method to develop and test the new
thinking of both myself and the pupils who participated in my research. Reflective
group discussions took place with pupils, class teaching colleagues, resource
teaching colleagues and research colleagues at the University of Limerick. These
have been recorded in field notes, journal summaries, in correspondence and in taped
transcripts (See Appendix 2).
These discussions also gave direction to the process of my research as in the
following example of a discussion I had with the first cohort of pupils. In audio taperecorded,
preparatory discussions for their report on specific learning difficulties, the
pupils asked, ‘Could I show classmates what it was like to find it hard to read?’ (see
Appendix 2.4c). They devised the following in answer to their own question, which I
have reproduced here from their reports ‘Explaining dyslexia to ourselves and
others’.
154
155
Pictures 6.3 and 6.4:
Pages from pupils’ reports showing what it was like to find it hard to read
The portrayal of their ideas was based on a video (then available from the Dyslexia
Association of Ireland) called ‘How hard can it be?’, which they had viewed. In that
video, adults are shown how hard it can be to learn in a class situation when one is
dyslexic. The pupils in my research devised their own strategies in the pages above
to show others how hard it can be to read. Another example of the interrelatedness of
y research methods was when I noted, in my journal, the avoidance strategies,
which lties made
public ils to inform their class teachers of this
durin r reports
their class teachers.
teacher interview and researcher observations, I was observing, learning and
m
my pupils said they used in class to avoid having their difficu
. I provided an opportunity for pup
g the question and answer session that followed the presentation of thei
to
Cohorts of pupils had discussions with five class teachers at a time and together we
theorised the nervous, attention-seeking and avoidance behaviours that the pupils in
my research displayed in their mainstream classes. These discussions were noted in
my journals. Bassey (1999, p.47) advises triangulation of teacher interviews about
the pupils’ behaviours and researcher observations in case study research. In my
self-study approach we were engaging in living triangulation. Rather than teacher-to-
checking my theorising against feedback from both the class teachers and pupils
present at these reflective and triangulation discussions. The teachers were learning
from the pupils by checking their practice against pupils’ experiences of it and I was
checking my practice against my new understanding of dialogical methods of
knowledge creation. Pupils were developing their understanding of the disability
with which they had been labelled.

My own developing understandings were noted in my journals such as notes from
discussions with resource teacher colleagues on the appropriateness of intervention
strategies for pupils. During the course of my research I presented my findings to
them and received written responses. A resource teacher in my school and another
source teacher in my locality commented in writing on all transcripts of taped
nd developing learning through relationships were discussed.
hese colleagues included both PhD candidates and college lecturers. Our discussion
bed in Glenn (2004).
ss to a video recorder in school. I used these forms
of d se they can capture descriptions –
suc s n – as well as certain skills. An
exa l g, on the spur of the
mo n idual pupil, while
re
conversations between pupils, and between the pupils and myself. From time to time
I have also received written comments on these transcripts from other professionals
such as an art therapist and a counsellor. Details of these are included in my data
archive (see Appendix 2).
I met with colleagues from the university bi-monthly to discuss our learning. Issues
of knowledge, data gathering methods, methodology, culture, journalling,
educational theories, a
T
and critique continued in writing and on web form as descri
When I provided evidence from my research, these colleagues’ correspondence
provided written validation of my claims. I maintained contact with two critical
friends throughout the course of my research. As well as offering their critique they
provided validation in the same way as colleagues from the university.
(4) Photography, audio and video taping
Throughout my research I used photography but videotaping was limited to three
occasions because I had not acce
ata gathering and evidence generation becau
h a movement, facial expression, verbal intonatio
mp e of these skills in my class situation was the composin
me t, of appropriate forms of questions for each indiv
156
mo ing the
ext phase of the lesson based on pupils’ responses. An audience member captured
s presenting their reports, which explained their understanding of their
ulated their agreement
with my findings and identified other new areas of learning (see Appendix 2.4e).
The d ent in the
correspondence from audience members following the conference.
I also photographed my pupils at work and they have photographed me, as in the
iprocal photographing shows the equality
our relationship. Another example is in Chapter Seven where on a series of
nitoring pupils’ levels of interest using eye-contact, and mentally re-plann
n
evidence of my embodied values on video as I presented a paper on my research at
an educational conference. The video and his correspondence stating that he had
observed my embodied values are in my data archive (see Appendix 2.4f), to which
my response was,

As a teacher I find it much easier for me to present data around my
students than about my own thinking, learning and practice. Your
video will be vital for this purpose.
(12th June 2003, original in data archive see appendix 2.5e)
Self-study action research offers a methodology to explore change and, among other
things, it is about making explicit what is implicit in one’s practice through a living
logic or, as Whitehead and McNiff (2006, p.8) call them, logics of imagination. A
second video (see Appendix 2.4g and some stills from it are in Chapter Seven) was
of my pupil
learning difficulties to peers in their class in the presence of the school principal,
deputy principal, a trainee teacher, a class teacher and two resource teachers. They
provided evidence of a change in my context. One element of this change was that
pupils were teaching teachers and school managers about specific learning disability
(dyslexia). This form of change could be described in words but the living evidence
on the videotape was richer and led me to regret that I had not made greater use of
this form of technology. I was convinced of the richness of this method of gathering
evidence of living change and the generation of living theory when I presented that
video (with appropriate permissions, which I will explain in the next chapter) at an
academic conference (McDonagh 2003). The audience artic
evelopment of new knowledge in relationship with others was evid
examples in Pictures 4.3 and 7.6. This rec
in
157
occasions I photographed pupils writing, looking for data to support my journal
y changes in attitude. The
uestions asked were based on an American programme ‘Other Kinds of Mind’ (All
elping you?
he language of these questions may not seem academic, for example ‘intelligent’ is
ot an antonym for ‘dumb’. However, the questions are written in words that are
commonly used by the pupils in my context. Question three is asking about attitudes
specific learning disability (dyslexia) although the pupils who pa icipated in my
search used the term ‘learning difficulties’. The question is asking if specific
arning disability (dyslexia) is something to be ashamed of. Class teachers gave
reflections about how pupils used unusual sitting positions, pencil holds and paper
positioning. These photographs are part of my evidence base for my developing
theories about the three-dimensional nature of thinking of those with specific
learning difficulties.
(5) Questionnaires to gather evidence of change
I sought qualitative evidence of changes in my work place. In the first year of my
research I administered a questionnaire to investigate attitudes of the general body of
pupils, excluding those pupils who were part of my research, to specific learning
difficulties. At the end of the second year, after 16 pupils who were involved in my
research had presented their reports titled ‘Explaining Dyslexia to Ourselves and
Others’, the questionnaire was re-administered to detect an
q
Kinds of Mind 2005) and were:
o What do you mean by being intelligent?
o Are people with learning difficulties dumb?
o If you had a learning difficulty would you tell a friend?
o Can you tell if someone is lazy or if they are struggling?
o If you have a learning difficulty, who is responsible for h
T
n
to rt
re
le
permission and time for me to explain and administer this questionnaire. Full classes
(thirty plus pupils) at sixth, fifth, fourth and second level (aged approximately
twelve, eleven, ten and eight years) answered the questions. The replies were taperecorded
and tabulated but not statistically analysed. They demonstrated a change in
the attitudes of mainstream class pupils, as I discuss in Part Four. Their opinions
indicated the development of personal knowledge and provided evidence of
educational influence – mine and that of the pupils who participated in my research.
158
Each cohort of pupils tested the new knowledge they created about their
understanding of specific learning disability (dyslexia) against what others had
learned from their reports in short questionnaires, which they composed. One
example, given earlier in Section Three, was that class teachers and the pupils’ peers
in their mainstream classes answered the following two questions, ‘What did you
arn about dyslexia?’ and ‘What further questions do you have about dyslexia?’ (see
Appe , also given
earlie rning against the
feedb ndix 7.3).
I asked –
(Appendix 7.3)
demonstrated my openness to critique.
n of the situation at the beginning of my research. I will
sho
and hods against the aims of my research. I then explain how the
larg
and
of f self-study action research in the metaphorical mirror. I am
que
self n research, have also considered the moral basis of their work. For
exa ple, for Stenhouse (1975) action research involved recapturing the moral basis
of teaching, while, according to Noffke (1997), Carr and Kemmis (1986) advocate a
le
ndices 2.7; 2.8 and Appendices 7.1 and 7.2). A second example
r in Section Three, was my questionnaire to test my new lea
ack of twenty-four resource teachers (see Appendix 2.9 and Appe
The final question that
Do you think that the approach that I used in my work is relevant for
resource teachers, for learning support teachers or for class teachers
and why?

~ The transformative potential of my methodological choice
Having described my research methods, I intend to show in this section how they
helped in the transformatio
w that I have scrutinised these methods by engaging in constant self-questioning
by testing my met
e amount of data that was generated by the changes in my practice was selected
converted into research evidence. Part of this process was the constant checking
my choice o
stioning the moral basis of my research. Others involved in action research and
-study actio
m
professionalism that resonates with human emancipation.
The self–study action research methodology I have chosen requires both action and
self-study. I am not only describing the actions that took place in the course of my
159
research but I am also studying why those actions occurred. My thesis includes both
description and explanation. This involves not only asking why things are so but also
asking for what purpose they exist. So my research involves constant selfquestioning.
I have asked questions about my practice such as
an insight from one of the groups
bove might change the course of my research. An example of this was when a
positioning my ontological perspective centrally in the research process as
In practical terms I was problematising taken-for-granted assumptions about my
practice and checking and testing my claims and theories with pupils, with class
teacher colleagues, with resource teacher colleagues and with learning colleagues
from my university. This at times was disturbing in that I had expectations of what
might be the next step in my research, and then
How do I teach now?
Why do I teach in this way?
What is important to me that influences how I teach?
Are my ideas about teaching valued by others?
(May 2001 journal in Appendix 2.1b)
a
teacher colleague pointed out that although the pupils participating in my research
and I had identified areas of difficulty for them in school, we had not listed areas that
the pupils were good at. The teacher’s comments changed the thinking behind my
data collection methods and placed a practical focus on achievements. This
disturbance is part of the essence of self-study action research, which I see as similar
to Donmoyer’s (1993, p.7 cited in Donmoyer 1996, p.20) encouragement to
researchers when he said,
Put your ready-made, comfortable assumptions of knowledge and
learning on hold… to think anew about the art and science of
educational research and practice.
(Dunmoyer 1996, p.20)
I am
Bullough and Pinnegar (2004) suggest, and am enquiring, ‘Have my research
methods addressed the aims of my research?’
160
Testing my methods against the aims of my research
In this section I am asking, ‘Are the methods that I have chosen in keeping with each
f my chosen research aims, which were informed by my ontological perspective
em
ow my pupils can come to value what they know and how they
Appendix 2.4b).
o
and bodied values?’ I have named three major aims for my research and I will
deal with each one in turn:
1. To show h
come to know it;
2. To explore the nature of relationships between people which foster knowledge
creation, and to develop the kinds of relationship that avoid oppression and
domination;
3. To become part of making a difference for good through my educative
influence.
1. To show how my pupils can come to value what they know and how they
come to know it
When I enabled each cohort of pupils to conduct a self study action research enquiry
into how each individually learned spellings, pupils came to value that they could
learn and control their own learning (see Appendix 2.1e and 2.4a). As described
above, the pupils tested their own findings about learning strategies by measuring
themselves against themselves as they learned spellings using a range of strategies
identified by their peers. Pupils were creating new knowledge individually when
they named their personal ways of learning spellings and they were also creating
new knowledge together in their group discussions about different ways of learning.
The audiotape recordings of their discussions demonstrated reciprocity in knowledge
creation (see
By facilitating this form of pupil research, I have shown that my methods of research
have changed my practice. The control of learning that dominated my teaching of
pupils with specific learning disability (dyslexia), as I described it in earlier chapters,
was gone. The research methods I have chosen have empowered pupils to value
what they know and how they come to know it. The pupils’ research was living and
161
on-going in that, even when the period of my research ended, they had the capability
to continue investigating their personal learning.
d this
id not only apply to spellings. The significance of this new knowledge for pupils
their evaluation. The pupils’ research reports (see Appendix 2.6a) also
aim of my
search gave opportunities for changes in practice and thinking. These changes
he methods I used allowed both the pupils and me to explore the nature of
I chose pupil journaling (see Appendix 2.1e to 2.1g) to help them develop an
awareness of what they knew by making entries beginning first with the words ‘I
learned’ and naming the new learning; and later with the words ‘I learned (named
learning)’ and ‘I learned it by (naming the method)’. During their group discussions
each cohort realised that each individual pupil had personal ways of learning an
d
was that they became aware of what they knew and changed their ways of thinking
in light of
demonstrated that in action research conclusions are tentative. The pupils’ wording
of their report title shows that they too were generating their personal theories of
learning when they called it ‘Learning spellings: the best way for me’ (see Appendix
2.6a)
The equality of our relationships that was inherent in my research methods was
shown when I painted my feelings about dyslexia along with my pupils (see
Appendix 2.6e) and joined their artwork discussions (see above). Pupils
photographed me as I painted and worked with them just as I did with them (see
Appendix 2.4h and 2.4i). The methods I used to carry out the first
re
occurred not only in my case but also in my pupils’ learning practice and in their
thinking about their positioning within school.
2. To explore the nature of relationships between people which foster
knowledge creation, and to develop the kinds of relationship that avoid oppression
and domination
T
relationships between people, which can foster knowledge creation. They gave rise
to changes in my epistemological and ontological perspectives. For example my
reflections in my journal gave me self-awareness (see Appendix 2.1b to 2.1d). I used
journaling as a research method for my pupils (see Appendix 2.1e to 2.1g) and in so
doing the pupils were provided with an opportunity to develop self-awareness of
162
what and how they learned. The form of question in the questionnaires (Appendix
2.7 and 2.9) composed by me and by the pupils demonstrate that we are valuing
personal knowledge and that we are always open to critique. The value of equality
and respect shone through all reflective discussions. An example of this respect was
the personal written invitation from pupils to class teachers to hear their oral
presentation of their reports on explaining our learning difficulties (samples in
Appendices 2.6b to 2.6d). Learning support staff was the first group. These teachers
were so impressed by the pupils’ work that they offered to supervise mainstream
lasses so that the teachers of those classes could attend the presentations. The entire
nt because one would
xpect such young pupils to wait for adult guidance. This episode, I believe,
ol and domination of pupils by teacher was not a feature of
y methodology.
c
school staff attended. The form of the reflective discussions was not merely for
triangulation of evidence. They were occasions when knowledge creation was
fostered in an atmosphere of trust, sharing, equality, service and respect.
My research methods also permitted the development of the kinds of relationship
that avoid oppression and domination between myself and my pupils and all who
had any part in my research. Pupils took control of their own learning and of the
research process. For example, on an occasion when I had to leave one cohort during
a discussion, the tape recorder was left on and pupils continued their discussion with
the same intensity as if I had been in the room. This is significa
e
demonstrates that contr
m
There is further evidence of a change in the teacher-pupil power relationship in the
form of questions they put to teachers in the questionnaire following their reports in
which they explained their learning difficulties. They asked teachers, ‘Have you any
other questions?’ showing a confidence and competence that there had been no
opportunity for them to demonstrate without my facilitative research methods.
3. To become part of making a difference for good through my educative
influence
Journaling was one of my transformative methods because within the pupils’
journals was evidence that changed my understanding of specific learning disability
(dyslexia). My thinking was changed when I saw in their journals the evidence that
163
they had multiple individual task specific ways of learning (see Chapter Eight), and
this concept was at odds with the perception of these pupils as learning disabled. As
well as being a vehicle for new knowledge that made a difference to my world in
terms of my expectations of pupils labelled with a specific learning disability,
journaling provided a vehicle for the development of metacognition. Metagognition
in the case of my pupils and me meant awareness of what we knew and how we
came to know. It was a method for developing new personal knowledge.
Audio-taping, artwork and reflective discussion were all methods that did not
prioritise the pupils’ areas of difficulty in school, which were mainly reading and
writing. The methods I chose suited the pupils’ abilities. In Chapter Nine I produce
evidence that the ways in which pupils spoke to teachers, school management and
peers about their learning difficulties were recommended by the school principal as a
method for all in the school to learn to deal with difficulties (See Appendix 2.4g).
The research methods I used allowed the pupils and me to break norms; norms
. My
ethods empowered us to break the rules because of their focus on ability rather
an disability. I can show (in Chapter Eight) that my research methods have
hanged my context because I have changed my practice. I have changed from a
ractice that was a denial of my values, and which I did not believe that I had the
ower to change. My research methods have allowed me to feel sufficiently
mpowered to open my work and that of my pupils to the critique of others.
eflective discussions and other methods that depended on my strengths in
terpersonal communication and my pupils’ oral strengths contributed to these
hanges.
he idea of educative influence is central to my research methods. My choice of
ethods meant that I was an agent for others as well as myself. But I was not acting
lone. I was finding ways for others to think and learn for themselves by providing
search methods to help others to understand how they can work together so that
ey can improve their own contexts. Whitehead (2004b) terms this process
where pupils with specific learning disability (dyslexia) were positioned as nonknowers
because they had difficulties learning; norms where I was positioned as a
non-theorist who acted according to others’ theories of learning and teaching
m
th
c
p
p
e
R
in
c
T
m
a
re
th
164
‘contributing to the education of social formations.’ A key feature of this process is
at it respects each individual and ‘their capacity to influence their own learning and
e learning of others’ (McNiff and Whitehead 2006, p.44). In order to achieve this,
y research methods of journaling, audio and video taping, questionnaires, and
terpretive discussion were on-going over a three year period.
.4 Summary
this section I have explained how I travelled from traditional methodologies in the
eld of specific learning disability (dyslexia) to a methodology that recognises the
ual focus of my research on both my pupils and on myself. This dual focus has
een influenced by my embodied values. These values have not only influenced my
hoice of research methodology but they also were shown to inform my selection of
ta, the generation of evidence from that data as well as being the criteria by which
judge the new learning that I describe in the Part Four. My journey towards a
methodology for my research has had four core themes. First, I have found ways to
show that the children and I could co-create knowledge. I have used methods that
demonstrated how I understood myself as in relation with them, and they with me.
The reflective dialogues that I have included in my methods involved a dialogue of
equals and spoke to values of justice, respect for the wholeness of each person and
human equality. Second, by offering the children opportunities to become self-study
action researchers in their own right, I have found a method that has linked the value
of the person with the idea that people/children must be free to realise and exercise
their value. This research approach was grounded in my ontological and Christian
values. Third, I have developed methods that permitted critique of my own stance in
relation to my pedagogies, as well as in relation with dominant practices of teaching
children with specific learning disability (dyslexia). Finally, I have used research
methods such as reflective journaling and processes of validating my research that
contributed to my understanding that personal and social practices are informed and
underpinned by specific ontological and epistemological values. My ways of
analysing pupil profiling and commercial programmes for specific learning disability
(dyslexia) allowed me to critique dominant forms of theory and learning on the
grounds that they can lead to further marginalisation and domination of those who
th
th
m
in
6
In
fi
d
b
c
da
I
165
are already oppressed. My methods also highlight critical issues around selfmonitoring,
self-esteem, and epistemological and personal values.
I address these issues in the next section when I ask myself how my new learning led
to the development of my practical living theory of learning to teach for social
justice, through teaching my pupils with specific learning disability (dyslexia).
166

167
PART FOUR: NEW LEARNING
In this section, I make a claim to knowled e in relation to what I have learned about
f pupils with specific learning disability (dyslexia). In the
revious section I set out a methodology that my pupils and I used collaboratively.
ths (2003) regard justice as an object of enquiry to be discussed
in an abstract propositional way. Contrary to this perspective, I show that practice
nities for the children in my research to have a voice in their own learning, I
an help them to see themselves not as consumers or objects within the school
g
the teaching and learning o
p
This methodology is shown to be emancipatory in this section in that we learned
how to become free by developing our capacity for self-critique through action
research. I encouraged my pupils to do their action research, at the same time as I
was doing my own action research. I now I describe how I have arrived at the point
where I have enabled myself and my pupils to exercise our voices.
In Chapter Seven I explain my own living theory of practice as learning to teach for
social justice, as I demonstrate my attempts to alleviate my experience of learned
helplessness as a teacher of pupils with specific learning disabilities (dyslexia). I
draw on the work of Kerr (2001) to show that my experience of learned helplessness
is not unique, yet my approach to it contributed to the development of my living
theory of practice. The nature of both a theory of practice and a theory of justice are
handled in traditional literatures as subjects to be studied; for example Rawls (1971
and 1999) and Griffi
and justice are embodied in the lived experiences of people as I develop a new living
form of theory to explain how I alleviated my learned helplessness and attempted to
influence the learning of the children involved in my research through my own life
affirming practices.
In Chapter Eight I explain how I have generated a living theory of learning to teach
for social justice in relation to children with specific learning disability (dyslexia). I
produce evidence to support my claim that the children’s awareness of how they
learn can enhance their learning. I explain and analyse how, by providing
opportu
c
system but rather as confident and capable learners.
168
I have come to realise that by adopting an inner locus of control, both my pupils and
I have formed a metaphorical fifth transformative wave of influence. This is where
all becomes dynamic. The first four waves described in earlier chapters have
generated sufficient momentum to form a tidal wave. This metaphorical tidal wave
has welled up from the shifting of the two major epistemological earth plates – the
traditional view of knowledge in my field and the stance that I have adopted.
e path of
e wave has been drawn into participative action – no one is left on the margins.
The wave has rolled on. All who have been involved in my research have been
stunned into acute personal awareness and action. Everyone who was in th
th
The wave transforms all within its living flood. My practical research processes
contribute to this transformation.
169
APTER SEVEN: Towards my living theory of learning to teach for s
stice through teaching pupils with specific learning disability (dy
CH ocial
ju slexia)
7.1
er by theorising the actions I took to address
y experiences of learned helplessness as a teacher of pupils with specific learning
disab g my actions
against current theories in the literatures.
working with the children who participated in my research against the insights of
who found that teachers who taught those with dyslexia experience
nking. During my research I
learne that was
remin f Graham (1991) and Weiner (1994 and
2000) alise our
ccess and failure in learning can determine how we learn or do not learn as
d service. These values
ave become the living standards by which my claims can be judged (Whitehead
1993)
So in
them in Chapters One to Four. I have found strategies to enable pupils to learn
Introduction
In this Chapter I am asking, ‘What did I do to address my own and my pupils’
learned helplessness?’ I found an answ
m
ilities/dyslexia. My initial theorising took the form of analysin
I examined my thinking about my ways of
Kerr (2001)
learned helplessness themselves in their teaching and thi
d to change my practice and engaged in a form of practice
iscent of the attributive theories o
. These researchers explain how the ways in which we conceptu
su
individuals. I combated my learned helplessness by moving towards a practice-based
form of theorising.
Within this practice-based form of theorising, I held myself accountable for my
work, within a self-study action research methodology, as explained by McNiff
(1993), McNiff et al. (2003) and McNiff and Whitehead (2005). I show evidence of
my practical pedagogical changes, and changes in the learning experiences of the
children who participated in my research. My accounts of these experiences are
tested at several levels – in the classroom, in conference presentations and research
seminars – against the values that I named on Table 5.1 of freedom, compassion,
justice, equality, forgiveness, human dignity, wholeness an
h
.
this chapter I am speaking about what I can do about my concerns as I outlined
170
effectively. I did this by developing a form of practice that addressed the learned
. The changes I made in my practice were based on my
perso e aware of
what . I claim
that I ustice. I
claim ry of contributive social justice.
f my personal experience of learned helplessness
I wan eir learned
helple
transf .
This first chapter about my new learning eals with how my research addressed the
ies (dyslexia).
During the meeting I said,
helplessness of pupils
nal experience of learned helplessness. I show how pupils can becom
they are doing as they learn through reflection and positive self-talk
have moved towards a living theory of learning to teach for social j
that mine is a living theo
7.2 Developing strategies to enable pupils to learn effectively by theorising
the transformation o
t to tell how I developed ways in which pupils could address th
ssness. To do so I must start at the beginning, with my own experiences of
orming my own learned helplessness
d
dichotomy between my values of justice and what was happening in my practice. I
begin with a description and explanation of my own experiences of injustice, which
led to my learned helplessness as a teacher of pupils with specific learning disability
(dyslexia). I agree with Slavin that,
Learned helplessness is the expectation, based on experience, that
one’s actions will ultimately lead to failure.
(Slavin 2003, p.343)
I have described my learned helplessness in the excerpt below from a transcript of a
group discussion with peer doctoral students. I then compare my description to the
thinking of Kerr (2001), when he produced qualitative and quantitative evidence of
the learned helplessness of teachers of pupils with specific learning disability
(dyslexia). Kerr also investigated how teachers were personally affected when faced
with students who had been diagnosed with specific learning disabilit
171
I was a teacher who was quite frustrated with what was happening in
my classroom. I felt I wasn’t meeting the needs of the children. I didn’t
have any way of rectifying this position. Various courses weren’t of
any use. The institutional aids that were there, weren’t helping me.
(12 February 2003 Taped conversation and transcript, original in data
archive Appendix 2.5g)
Kerr (2001) similarly found that his respondents, all of whom taught pupils with
specific learning difficulties/dyslexia,
Revealed almost universal, and very considerable confusion and
uncertainty as to what dyslexia might be.
(Kerr 2001, p.82)
Even more significantly, 66% of teacher respondents
Showed considerable disempowerment or learned helplessness when
faced with a student with dyslexia.
(Kerr 2001, p.80)
Kerr’s respondents and I dealt with our learned helplessness in different ways, and
this divergence is central to my claim to have developed a living theory of learning
to teach for social justice. I dealt with my learned helplessness by undertaking selfstudy
action research. I held myself accountable, within this methodology, for my
work, and I experienced a major shift in my thinking. The following quotations are
examples of how others confirm that I demonstrated changes in thinking in the ways
I worked. The quotations are taken from a validation meeting with research peers
where I presented my data and evidence that I had generated in my research by
assessing my data against the values I stated were my standards of judgement. Those
in the group assessed my evidence and claim as well as the clarity and acceptability
of my standards of judgement. At the meeting, I said that,
I had always thought that the powers-that-be had all the wisdom, and
that the practitioners had not.
(12 February 2003 Taped conversation and transcript, original in data
archive Appendix 2.5g)
172
A research peer said,
You have come, through studying in this method [self-study action
research], to understand that there are other ways of knowing and the
value of individual personal knowledge.
(12 February 2003 Taped conversation and transcript, original in data
archive Appendix 2.5g)
Kerr fferently,
when
The language used by two thirds of the respondents grew grey and
abruptly behaviourist, skill and drill-based and sometimes scheme-
(Kerr 2001, p.81)
nguishing feature of my approach was that I decided to adopt an internal locus
of control in tackling my learning helplessness. This required addressing problematic
questions, such as the nature of dge
s against these questions (as I have discussed in Chapters One to Four)
attribution theory (Graham, 1991; Weiner 1994 and 2000), which addresses the
(2001) in contrast found that the teachers he researched responded di
he stated that,
pessimistic, expectations fell precipitatively and tuition became
driven (Hornsby and Shear 1990).

A disti
learning, knowledge and who are knowle
creators. It i
that I place my claim to have transformed my experiences of learned helplessness
towards a more just conception of learning. By questioning my pedagogy, I
demonstrated a metacognitive awareness of the need for openness to change. When I
adopted an internal locus of control I demonstrated a belief in my own capacity to
think and change my situation. My commitment to a self-questioning methodology
about my practice and thinking is grounded in the values of respect for the
uniqueness of the individual and their capabilities to think, learn and change. By
doing my research I claim that I am demonstrating a more just approach to
knowledge creation and theorising in that I am creating opportunities for the voice
and thinking of the teacher and her students to be heard within a context that largely
values objective and quantitative studies of pedagogical processes.
The divergence between what seemed to be occurring in the teaching of Kerr’s
respondents and in my own practice can be analysed within the framework of
173
demotivation attached to learned helplessness. Although these authors’ research was
not specific to teachers, it enables me to explain the differing perspectives and
actions of Kerr’s respondents and my research. The theory of attribution explains
that when learning is attributed to one’s own ability, and when one is convinced that
ere is stability, about how one’s efforts to learn are valued, and when one is in
could seem to stem from a feeling that nothing we
personally did mattered. Attributing the cause of failure to ourselves, as teachers,
thus d r (1994)
claim . Kerr’s
respo nd third attributes of
learni
th
control of the process, then learning is successful. On the other hand if one is unsure
of one’s ability to learn, as is the case in learned helplessness, and if the assessment
of one’s learning is dependent on subjective assessment by an outsider to the
learning process whose view cannot be controlled by the learner regardless of how
much effort he or she puts into the learning process, then learning is not successful.
Graham (1991) and Weiner (1994 and 2000) attribute the degree of success or
failure to the balance between these three attributes of ability, stability/instability and
control of learning by the learner. The learned helplessness that both Kerr’s
respondents and I felt as teachers
enying our abilities, is the first of the three features, which, Weine
s, determine personal success and failure in learning settings
ndents and I differed on our approach to the second a
ng and this is demonstrated in the pedagogical changes we made.
The key indicators of success and failure within the framework of attribution
theory are ability, effort, task difficulty and luck (Slavin 2003, p.334). Kerr’s
respondents and I demonstrated similarities in our attitudes to ability and effort but
differed in the other aspects. Kerr’s respondents and I all doubted our personal
ability to help pupils with specific learning disability (dyslexia) by engaging in the
‘grey and pessimistic’ (p.80) language of Kerr’s respondents and my belief that
‘the powers-that-be had all the wisdom, and that the practitioners had not’. Both
Kerr’s teachers and I demonstrated our efforts to address our learned helplessness
by introducing ‘drill-based programmes’ (Kerr 2001, p.81; McDonagh 2002, p.3)
and attending ‘courses’ (McDonagh 2000, p.14). However, in terms of task
difficulty and the element of luck we adopted different stances. As Kerr put it, his
respondents ‘blamed the victim’ (p.81) and the victims that he was referring to
were pupils with dyslexia. In doing so his respondents coped with their learned
helplessness by shifting the locus of control from themselves to the pupils. Their
174
‘abruptly behaviourist, skill and drill-based and sometimes scheme-driven’ (Kerr
2001, p.81) practice positioned Kerr’s respondents as technicians who perceived
pupils’ learning as responses to such schemes and drills. In shifting the locus of
control Kerr’s respondents maintained their self-esteem but their pupils were
placed at a disadvantage, according to Kerr (2001). A practical example of this
shift in focus was,
W
nished. What
agmented and
deliberately repetitive, highly structured and controlled, depersonalised
t was happening in my work.
(30 February 2003 Letter to supervisor, original in data archive
omprises inner critical engagement and outer questioning of the condition of which
henever tuition was altered this was invariably a ‘dumbing down’.
Flair and methodological freedom frequently va
respondents appeared to offer ‘dyslexics’ was fr
and focussed on the subskills of literacy.
(Kerr 2001, p.81)
By contrast, I adopted an internal locus of control through the process of engaging
in self-study action research:
I learned to be responsible for wha
Appendix 2.3a)
By adopting an internal locus of control in learning I have not only engaged with a
process to address success and failure in learning and the injustice of the learned
helplessness I had experienced but I have also reconstituted my identity as a teacher
in that I have begun to theorise my practice (Clandinin and Connelly 1995). The
epistemological stance I have taken in doing so is what McNiff (2002) refers to as an
internalist rather than an externalist approach to knowledge and theorising. I have
prioritised personal knowledge (Polanyi 1958) and broken with the hegemonising
power of outsider theory over my practice by taking action to control my learned
helplessness. My new understanding of my identity as one who can theorise my
practice of teaching pupils with specific learning disability (dyslexia) is linked to my
understandings of knowledge. My new understanding of identity as inner critical
engagement in part supports Foucault’s (1979 and 1980) ideas that identity
c
the self is constituted. Many of Foucault’s ideas around how the self is constituted
175
deal with issues of subjection and the nature of power relationships. In my research I
have engaged with a power struggle between myself and theories in the literature;
yet I have sought to avoid power struggles between myself and those whom I teach
and with whom I am researching.
These seeming contradictions are also informed by my respect for the individual
and their unique capabilities to think, learn and change. The epistemological stance
that I have adopted in my research informed my differing approaches to
theoretical, ontological and epistemological power struggles. I am not theorising
identity, power or justice as things at an abstract level. I am presenting my
ple. I want to show
how m al justice can
nd Whitehead
006) write, that each person,
assess the quality of my
understanding of them as aspects of the practices of real peo
y practice-based living theory of learning to teach for soci
transform negative situations into life-affirming ones or, as McNiff a
(2
[h]as the power of influence. Each has the capacity to influence their
own learning and the learning of others. Each has to learn to exercise
their influence in such a way that the Other will also learn to exercise
their power for influence for educational sustainability.
(McNiff and Whitehead 2006, p.238)
My living theory of learning to teach for social justice has at its core those ideas of
my capacity and that of the pupils in my research to influence our own learning and
the learning of others. Based on these ideas, I am describing my living theory as a
contributive theory of justice in which those experiencing injustice are enabled to
contribute to establishing justice. My reflective awareness and metacognitive
approach to my ways of working and influencing the learning of others has
contributed to the development of my living theory of practice. I am claiming that
the actions I took to address the unjust situation of learned helplessness, as I
experienced it, were based in personal awareness, and my personal awareness
contributed to personal actions that influenced change in myself and in others. The
remainder of this chapter provides the evidence from changes in my children’s
learning to validate my claim to have transformed my experiences of learned
helplessness towards a more just conception of learning. Producing such evidence
involves articulating my standards of judgement by which I
176
evidence. I do this below. I will show how I provided opportunities for the pupils in
arning, knowledge and knowledge creation. I claim this because these changes
ite that a pupil
‘doesn’t try hard enough’ or that the pupil ‘is capable of better results’. Thompson,
archive) to explain their learning difficulties. In this project the pupils listed nine
my research to develop an internal locus of control in their own learning and also
how I provided opportunities for them to develop their personal forms of voice. In
doing so I demonstrated in practice that I value the individual learner by developing
a more just form of practice and less power-constituted relationships between pupils
and teachers and between epistemologies in teaching and learning.
7.3 Developing a more just practice to address the learned helplessness of
pupils with specific learning disability (dyslexia)
In this section I explain how my awareness of adopting an internal locus of control
led to innovative changes in my practice and provided a more just approach to
le
provided a framework to address issues of marginalisation; issues about freedom
for learners to voice their preferred ways of learning; and issues of power
relationships in teaching and learning.
The first four chapters of this thesis include instances of how organisational issues
such as labelling denied pupils with specific learning disability (dyslexia) the
possibility of maintaining a positive self-image in the face of their learned
helplessness. Prior to my research many pupils with specific learning disability
(dyslexia) in my school context experienced a lack of belief in their own
capabilities, which in turn led to a lack of effort to learn, and cycles of learning
avoidance. The Individual Educational Plan in Appendix 6.2 gives an example of
how this can appear in school documentation, when teachers wr
Davidson and Barber (1995) suggest that people attempt to maintain a positive
self-image even in the face of such helplessness. It was my experience that pupils
set up avoidance strategies to help maintain a positive self-image. I gathered
evidence of the avoidance strategies that the children in my research used in
dealing with their experiences of learned helplessness, as in the following example.
Yearly cohorts of participating pupils produced a written group project (see data
177
curricular areas out of a possible eleven in which they experienced difficulties. In
making this list, each child, without any prompting from me, used the words, ‘I
n’t do…’ (other references to this are in appendix 2.6b). These words can be
perce pupils’
exper failure
resonates with the learned helplessness that I had felt as their teacher. I questioned
if wh ur key
dicators of success or failure in learning within the attribution theory discussed
that the pupils believe that the situation cannot be
chang ause is
contro over their
learni positive
respo uld they
chang eactions to learned
helple olves the
articulating that we could change things, as I now explain.
ca
ived as a demonstration of an avoidance strategy based on the
ience of failure. This expectation of failure based on experiences of
at was happening for the pupils could be explained in terms of the fo
in
above. I noted my questioning in my journal when I asked,
Could they be aware of why they say they can’t learn?
Do they understand but can’t articulate learned helplessness?
If they became aware could they change the situation?
(12 January 2002 Journal, original in Appendix 2.1b)
Attribution theory (Graham, 1991; Weiner 1994 and 2000) positions ability, effort,
task difficulty and luck as key indicators of success and failure in learning. In the
previous paragraph I have shown how pupils in my research believed that they do
not have the ability to learn. Pupils ceased attempting tasks that they decided were
too difficult, in order to maintain the idea that they could do well if they really
wanted. The idea that pupils could do well if they really wanted to is a concept
described by Jagacinski and Nichols (1990), which refers to a strategy that students
employ in order to keep their self-esteem in failing situations. Similar to Kerr’s
respondents and me, the pupils are attributing the cause of their failure personally.
We are all attributing our learned helplessness to ourselves, which is the first of three
features, which, Weiner (1994) claims, determines personal success and failure in
learning settings. The second characteristic is whether failure or success is perceived
as stable or unstable, which means
ed. Weiner (1994) states that the third characteristic is whether the c
llable or not. Here the pupils had already demonstrated some control
ng situations by devising avoidance strategies. This, to me, indicated a
nse to my third journal question above – if they became aware co
e the situation? Therefore the difference between my r
ssness and that of my pupils lay in the second characteristic that inv
178
By writing about my practice in my research, I found a way to voice and theorise
earned helplessness. The idea of voice has
y living theory of learning to teach for social
ices the pupils and I could address the initial
pupils needed ways to establish their own
of learning and I needed to establish my
research process contributed to a more just
rovided ways in which I could become aware
my learned helplessness. In the research
rovided opportunities for the pupils in my
research to gain a voice with the purpose of making the situation more just for them.
Each cohort of pupils was first given an opportunity to show their awareness of their
feelings about the disability with which they were labelle
how I changed my experiences of l
significance for the development of m
justice because through gaining our vo
concerns in my enquiry, in that my
learning voice within their processes
theorising voice. My self-study action
situation for me because the process p
and reflect on how best to transform
episodes below I will show how I p
d. They then demonstrated
is awareness in conversations with peers and myself. I found that the pupils could
inished self-esteem. An
ach pupil depicted their feelings about
3.1 and 5.1 above. In discussing their
ere heard – voices which were usually
ion system – as when Pupil B spoke of
at he wanted to keep away from them.
ed if the drawing represented ways ‘just to keep the teacher out’
Pupil B responded, ‘Yeah, just to keep everything bad away from me’ (19 February
2002 T nscript, original in Appendix 2.6e).
My explanation of the pupil’s picture and reflective conversation was that I had
created an opportunity for pupils to present their voice in a visual form that ignored
their written disabilities. In this process pupils articulated how they understood the
learning disability with which they were labelled. Myself, another resource teacher
and an art therapist reflected on the transcripts of the pupils’ conversations in writing
(originals in Appendix 2.6e). One of these critical friends confirmed that both in my
practice and in my claims I had respected the capabilities of the pupils in my
th
learn to reflect on their learning disability and their dim
example of this was in artwork in which e
their specific learning disability, as in Pictures
artwork, the voices of each cohort of pupils w
silent about their difficulties within the educat
how he perceived most teachers as bad and th
When Pupil K ask
aped conversation and tra
179
resear when
she w

e.
end A, Appendix 2.5h)
The a pils, in which I offered them opportunities for free expression
using 2003)
or ‘A ese art forms have come to be celebrated
world materials
at were dear to the artists – from fabrics to paperclips and felt-tip pen drawings.
ulses and freedom from artistic convention can be seen in
any of the pictures included in this thesis. This artwork permitted pupils to
comm ces; to
redisc ider art, because its artists come
from y pupils
devel onversations about
their in the
follow
rain. A dyslexic brain.
t
ic.
ch. She also stated that I provided them with a more just learning setting
rote,
You stood aside and gave them [my children/researchers] a voice. Art
made it safer for them. It was a filter that allowed them to have a voic
Art created an atmosphere where they were prepared to tell what they
thought.
(28 Feb 2002 Correspondence from Critical Fri
rt work of my pu
any art medium of their choice, was reminiscent of ‘outsider art’ (Kinley
rt Brut’ (Azzola 2005). Both of th
wide. They feature varied works created from both usual and unusual
th
Apart from a freedom from artistic conventions, Kinley claims that their works
exhibit visual connections and impulses, which add to their uniqueness (Kinley
2003, p.47). The artists themselves give the title to the genre in that they dwell on the
margins of society for reasons as varied as learning disabilities, mental and physical
disabilities, unemployment and homelessness. What emerged from my children’s art
was surprising to both the pupils and to me. In looking at their work the visual
connections, the visual imp
m
unicate ideas and emotions associated with their personal experien
over their own identities and diversity. Outs
the margins, is generally presented without explanation. However m
oped new meanings about their work during taped peer c
pictures, which appeared to alleviate their learned helplessness as
ing two transcript extracts,
Pupil J said. ‘I drew a brain or somethin’ like a b
And then a big brain. Like the normal brain. To see can anyone spo
the difference. They won’t. There’ll be none ’cause I drew two brains
just the same. Cause no one’s able to say to a kid like you’re dyslex
It’s like catching them out. It’s just provin’ to people there’s nothing
wrong with the brain. It’s just how you think about things.
(4 March 2002 Pupil discussions, Appendix 2.4c)
180
181
This e to the
same conclusion as Davis (1994), that dyslexia for him was about how one thinks.
t transcript
is factually accurate because their
to fit within the
is the picture that accompanied the discussion above. Pupil J had com
The pupils quoted in the nex
extract build on Pupil B’s understanding of
dyslexia by identifying the factors that
contribute to their disablement as school,
pedagogy and comprehension. The pupils
relate their difficulties in comprehension to
slowness in decoding words. This statement
comprehension difficulties are not due to
lack of intellectual capacity because, unlike many other pupils receiving learning
support, these pupils are of average intelligence or above, as demonstrated on their
scores achieved by psychometric testing (see Chapter One and in their pupil
profiles see Appendix 6.1).
This picture, painted by Pupil R, and the
discussion beneath it shows how Pupil R
understood that school was more
inhibiting for him than dyslexia itself. His
understandings seem
educational model of disability that I
explained earlier.
Pupil R said, ‘My picture is my Easter at home in my house. I thought I
would draw something ’cause Easter is coming up and Easter is one of
my favourite times. So I drawed an Easter Egg and somebody in the
corner. That’s me. And then … just… writ Easter beside it. Well…it
[dyslexia] doesn’t exactly affect you at home, cause you’re not doing
any work like … It’s just at school. That’s where you see…that’s
where you see that you have that specific learning difficulty. ’Cause
when you’re outside playing sport or something. No, it’s not there. But
when you’re doing maths or spellings, that’s when you find that
specific learning difficulty a problem. You…’
Pupil J interjected, ‘Sometimes I always have to ask someone to spell
the big words.’
Pupil M added, ‘In school it affects you because teacher is always
going too fast. And you can’t understand the reading. You’d just read a
page and you can’t understand it.’
(19 March 2003 Transcript, see Appendix 2.6e)
An awareness and inner questioning of the disability with which they had been
labelled occurred during the process of making the artwork. There is evidence of the
pupils’ reflections and outer questioning (Foucault 1980) during their conversations
about their artwork. Foucault (1979 and 1980) tells how identity is formed through
processes of inner reflection and outer questioning. In the conversation transcript
low an entire cohort of pupils talk with Pupil T about his picture depicting his
our eyes see them. That’s my
bad drawing of an ear. That’s an ear in there. I wasn’t very good at
ears. And anybody who has all this jumble of all this – like with
dyslexia – eyes and ears and lips…. can still know things crystal clear.
be
understanding of dyslexia.

Pupil J said: I think it’s like a monster. With the eyes and the big nose.
It has one massive eye and one little eye. And it has a kind of key
rings. It has something beside the eyes…….
Pupil B said: I think it’s like all the teachers, looking and saying and
talking to you like and saying you’re not good and all that.
Pupil T said: I’ll tell you what I drew. ’Cause yea I tried to draw. Eyes.
Mouth. I tried to draw ears. Nobody recognised my ears.
Pupil J said: I thought they were key rings……
Pupil T said: What I see is dyslexia affects eyes, ears and talking.
That’s why I drew three things. And it jumbles them all up all over the
place, looking like a monster – J was right. So sometimes eyes are
getting messages. Sometimes ears are getting messages. Sometimes
your eyes are seeing things that you hear differently. Sometimes ears
are hearing things different from how y
182
Pupil N said: You can explain stuff by just scribbles and all that. Just
what you feel. I done it.
(14 March 2003 Discussion transcript, original in Appendix 3.2a)
The full transcript of this discussion about Pupil T’s drawing of his feelings about
dyslexia is in Appendix 3.2a. Pupil T described dyslexia as processing difficulties in
the areas of hearing, listening, speaking and seeing, yet he claims that these
organisational distortions give him clarity of thought and communication. I maintain
that his descriptions and explanations could contribute to many of the current
research debates about dyslexia from medical, educational and psychological fields.
The understanding of dyslexia that the pupils gained through discussing their
. I
ad provi ith opportunities t m of voice in which they too could
pe eir isa f
co on w our a he
l e h nced d
disc that th rch ha ith
opp ng pe co l
firming e r’s abilities to m icit their
personal tacit understandi s of th
I w here an ,
te that they have been labelled? In answering the first
uestion, I maintain the pupils understood dyslexia as a disability prior to taking part
artwork was reminiscent of my shift towards an inner locus of control in learning
h ded them w o use a for
rsonally take control of th
ntrol was the power base
understandings of their d
hich we could build
bility. This inner locus o
bilities to transform t
earned helplessness that w ad previously experie . Through artwork an
ussion I am claiming e pupils in my resea ve been provided w
ortunities for developi
justice, where pupils are con
rsonal awareness and a
ach othe
ntributive form of socia
ake expl
ng the disability with which ey had been labelled.
ant to clarify two issues
and second, did they apprecia
: first, did pupils underst d dyslexia as a disability
q
in my research. However, their understanding changed during the course of my
research. For example, Pupil T whom I quote in Appendix 3.2a stated that dyslexia
provided him with clarity of thought and communication, suggesting he understood
dyslexia as contributing to his ability rather than as a disability. Yet in an earlier
journal entry, he wrote,
I have the same disease as my Mammy
(Appendix 2.1e)
183
The examples that I have given above indicate the level of self-awareness that the
pupils who participated in my research had reached. The research methods that I
used to achieve this level of self-awareness included reflective discussions, which
together with their artwork, provided opportunities for the pupils to exercise their
individual voice particularly in relation to their learning. There were two other key
features of my research at that time. These were reflection and positive self-talk. I
will explain these over the next few pages, but for now I want to state my claim that
I have provided evidence of a more just practice in that I am living to my values. In
developing self-awareness about specific learning disability (dyslexia) in relation to
others with the same learning disability, I have shown empathy by allowing the
participating pupils opportunities to adopt the same approach to learned helplessness
s I had. I had also allowed them the freedom to explore their identities as learners in
these indicate my commitment to service and my belief in the
f what and how we learned, I feel justified in claiming that this
etacognitive approach alleviates learned helplessness or, in the images of the wave
a
their artwork. Both of
capacities of these young individuals. In my relationship with my pupils I
demonstrate that I treat my pupils as myself and so I show my values of respect for
the individual, freedom and service which support my understanding that learned
helplessness can be addressed by valuing the learner and more specifically by the
learner valuing him/her self.

~ Pupils become aware of what they are doing as they learn through positive
self-talk and reflection
In practical terms there was the enactment of two transformative concepts that
alleviated my learned helplessness and that of the pupils in my research by helping
us to become aware of what and how we learn. These were (a) positive self-talk and
(b) reflection. These processes also helped us to construct new transformative
meanings. In the research episode below I claim that, by facilitating positive selftalk,
I can show its implications for self-esteem. Following from this I give examples
of forms of reflection for both myself and my pupils. In demonstrating our
awareness o
m
metaphor, shocks all whom it touches into acute personal awareness and action
against the injustices we have experienced.
184
In the following episode from my research I claim that issues of low self-esteem and
poor self-perception, as shown in B’s picture (Picture 5.1 above) and which were
lso obvious in many of my children’s pictures, were reversed. As part of a group
projec slexia to
ourse Internet
inform ave had
specif heir
findin s in this
internalising process. Each cohort of eight upils produced projects. The contents of
a
t explaining specific learning disability under the title ‘Explaining dy
lves and others’ (Appendices 2.4g and 2.6b), my pupils accessed
ation on famous and successful people who are reported to have or h
ic learning difficulties. Using clip art and word art pupils presented t
g project. Their project title initiated a metacognitive, positive
p
these projects are below and these projects are in my data archive (see Appendix
2.6b to 2.6d).
Table 7.1: Contents of pupils’ reports explaining their learning difficulties
Cohort 1 Cohort 2 Cohort 3
Famous people who have
specific learning disabilities
(dyslexia)
Famous people who have
specific learning
disabilities (dy
Famous people who have
specific learning
slexia) disabilities (dyslexia)
Things I have difficulty with Things I hav
at school
e difficulty
with at school
Things I have difficulty
with at school
How I learn spellings How I learn spellings How I learn spellings
Treatments for specific
learning disabilities (dyslexia)
Writing about w
learned
hat I’ve Writing about what I’ve
learned
You too can feel dyslexic –
activities
Do I learn things
good at in the same way
that I am
s
Do I learn things that I am
good at in the same ways
How dyslexia helps me
How I feel about specific
learning disabilities (dyslexia)
How I feel abou
learning disab
(dyslexia)
abilities
t specific
ilities
How I feel about specific
learning dis
(dyslexia)
As can be seen from these tables of contents, t
negotiation of understandings of specific learning disabilities
nd myself. In their projects my pupils show and explain how they had
result, I
facilitator of knowledge acquisition rather
than a controller of pupils’ knowledge and knowledge acquisition. My approach
challenges an empirical and pragmatic approach such as Dweck (1986), who argues
that focusing on learning goals that are easy to achieve for the pupils can reduce
helplessness. It also challenges a staged approach such as that of Alterman and
he pupils’ projects grew from the
(dyslexia) by my
pupils a
internalised new ideas around specific learning disabilities (dyslexia). As a
as their teacher became a negotiator and
185
Pitrich (1994), who advise that teache ess by
structured processes giving pupils (1) ; (2)
immediate feedback; (3) consistent ex follow through (Alterman and
Pitrich 1994). However my ideas d
understandings contained other elem ning as described by
Slavin (2003), which he states involve
familiar to new, using advance organis
devising group projects on specific le ia), I claim that my
pupils were ‘guided to change their
independent learners’ (Lerner 2000, f
pupils’ self-esteem in the example of positive self-talk that follows.
) Positive self-talk
es for
tem of Reading (Johnson et al. 1999) and Toe by Toe (Cowling and
owling 1993) – in the form of pupils monitoring of their personal progress.
Altho became
aware of y research I used
commercial interventions for dyslexia (see Appendix 4.1) with a cohort of pupils
over a
the m ersonal,
self-scoring sheets of daily attainments, a sample of which are in Appendix 4.2.
These children
perce itive motivation. Quantitative and qualitative
analy ponses to
e question ‘Which sheet works best for you?’ provided evidence of pupils’
rs prevent or alleviate learned helplessn
opportunities for success in small steps
pectations and
about celebrating positive and negotiate
ents of successful lear
s ‘eliminating the negative and moving from
ers or guided discovery’ (Slavin 2003, p.v). In
arning disability (dyslex
attribution style to become persistent and
p.245). I facilitated further enhancement o
(a
The concept of positive self-talk features in many commercial programm
dyslexia – such as Phonological Awareness Training (Wilson 1996), Multisensory
Teaching Sys
C
ugh positive self-talk is not a stated feature of these programmes, I
it in the following way. In an initial phase of m
three-month period. Quantitative comparisons (see Chapter Nine) showed that
ost effective programmes in achieving their stated aims contained p
sheets could be said to be more than record keeping data because the
ived them as a form of pos
ses of pupils’ recorded achievements on the programmes and their res
th
preferences for those sheets with congratulatory formats or space for personal
comments.
Positive self-talk was a feature of the personal learning experiments my pupils
engaged in during my research. Here positive self-talk means a personal form of
186
motivation in which pupils were encouraged to self-affirm themselves on
attainments with oral statements. An example of it would be:
Pupil L said, ‘I felt happy when I drew all my ideas. I can’t say them
but the colour helped me show them. Now I can tell you about them. I
ils S s in my diary – the things
rned t ad learned so much. Wow!’
script, Appendix 2.6e)
sting uring my research, the power of
tal nue learning, became obvious. In
ing t
reverse the poor self-perception (McCormack, 2002) which had arisen
from discrepancy between their achievement level and their potential of which
years)
am good at drawing. It helps me think.’
Pup aid, ‘When I read over all the things
I lea his week I didn’t believe that I h
(February 3004 Taped conversation and tran
By contra pupils’ attitudes prior to and d
positive self- k, as a form of motivation to conti
the follow wo pictures and commentaries (Pictures 7.1 and 7.2) the pupils
provided data of how they found that, by exercising their voice in their artwork,
they could
they had been aware prior to my research.
Pupil L said, It means just how I am. The two Rainbows mean that me feelings
backfire. So sometime I am happy
and then I can be sad straight again.
It is just expressing my feelings.
Pupil C asked, Why are you in the
middle of your picture?
Pupil L said, It was just an
expression of how I felt. I thought
that drawing a picture of me helped
me realise how I feel.
Picture 7.1 and discussion of ‘Mood Swings’ by Pupil L (9
187
Pupil S said, This is me on th h.
asked, Why are you only black
Pupil S, Just.
y are you i o
helped you with your
to identify a tim en
Pupil S, I try and solve it. I only ask my
Can positive self-talk be included in a pedagogical approach for pupils
elf-talk contribute to the learning of pupils with specific
learning disability (dyslexia)?
Can positive self-talk address low self-esteem in pupils with specific
(17 September 2003 Journal, Appendix 2.1c)
I am ecounted
above alk as a motivator to learn for
those new knowledge, I
introduced changes in my teaching in order to influence the learning of my pupils.
Build to keep
perso rote or drew pictures about ‘Things I can do and
how le below,
e beac
Pupil G ?
Pupil G asked, Wh n your wn?
Pupil S, I always am.
Pupil L asked, Who
homework? [seeking
he might not be alone]
e wh
mam or brother if I am really, really stuck.
Picture 7.2 and discussion of ‘Aloneness’ by Pupil S (9 years)
The importance of art as a window into pupils’ developing thinking will be
discussed later in this chapter, but for now I want to question as I did in my journal
at that time,
with specific learning disability (dyslexia)?
What are pupils’ perceptions of positive self-talk?
Can this be gleaned in an open-ended evaluation approach
commensurate with my values and philosophy?
Can positive s
learning disability (dyslexia)?

claiming that I gained new knowledge from episodes such as those r
in that I now understand the power of self-t
with specific learning disability (dyslexia). Based on this
ing on the idea of positive personal reinforcement, I invited them
nal diaries in which they w
I learned them’ (Appendix 2.1f). These diaries, as in the examp
188
became a daily form of positive self-talk in that the children recorded a range of
able 7.2: Pupil P’s learning journal 7th January 2002 – 18th January 2002
rds
achievements and learning strategies. Their achievements were amazing to me as
well as to themselves as evidenced in the following extract from my own journal and
an audio-taped recording of a pupil’s comments on his diary.
T
Monday I can spell ¼ of all reading wo
Tuesday I know how to do desumuls*
Wednesday I know my scout prayer
Thursday I know my way round around the pervinls**
Friday I know safety in the home
Monday I know how to puck a sliter***
Tuesday I know how to make noodles
Wednesday I know half of my 7 times tables
Thursday I know how to do a solo
Friday I know how to tipe**** on the PC. I did not know I knew so much
Notes: * Decimals; ** indecipherable; *** all used in playing hurling:
he concept of positive self-talk in learning
but also as a booster of self-esteem. As Sla ts, this form of positive
reinforcement is an antidote to learned helpless
self-esteem was shown to have improved y research occurred as follows.
Prior to and following my research each p
or self-perception checklist (Coopersmith 1967 and Barker
composed by a teacher colleague and me nificant
lves differently and also
s viewed them. An example of this is in Table 7.3 below
where I compare the percentage scores of the 2nd cohort of pupils prior to my
research with their percentage scores post research on our teacher-composed
checklist of self-awareness in learning. I am presenting these scores as indicators of
the pupils’ changes in thinking about themselves. The instructions to pupils for
completing the checklist were, ‘Please tick once on each line’.
Table 7.3: Teacher composed self-esteem and self-perception checklist
LIKE ME NOT
LIKE ME
sliotar – a b
**** type.
T can not only act as a form of motivation
vin (2003) sugges
ness. The process in which pupils’
during m
upil completed a commercial self-esteem
-Lunn 1970), and one
(see below). These revealed sig
improvements in awareness. Pupils perceived themse
realised how their peer
Prior Post Prior Post
87 ½ 0 I am no good at anything 12 ½ 100
0 100 I am good at learning things 100 0
189
87 ½ 50 It is hard for me to do things in front of my class 12 ½ 50
62 ½ 25 I do not like reading 32 ½ 75
25 100 I am good at doing things 75 0
75 50 I like writing 75 50
87 ½ 0 School upsets me 12 ½ 100
0 87 ½ I tell my friends when things are hard 100 12 ½
32 ½ 100 I have lots of friends 62 ½ 0
12 ½ 50 My friends think I am good at things in school 87 ½ 50
12 ½ 100 My friends think that I am good at things
outside school
87 ½ 0
87 ½ 25 It takes me longer than my friends to get
(understand) new things
12 ½ 75
In this process pupils were engaging in self-study action research methods similar to
mine. The evaluation of changes in my practice and in theirs continued in the form
of short conversations between myself and the pupils that were taped and transcribed
in which pupils answered, ‘Do you feel you are good at spellings? What else are you
good at?’ I have evidence of the power of positive self-talk from pupils, class
teachers and parents below. This evidence is in written, oral and visual forms
(Appendix 2). In the following example a 12-year-old pupil wrote about his
improvements as follows:
Since then I feel more confident. I feel I have improved in English
reading. I learn my spellings much quicker with less hassle and I kn
them forever. I know I have improved in reading, spellings,
comprehension, mathematical sentences, tables and learning Irish
spellings. I did my entrance exam to secondary sc
ow
hool on 9th March. I
nd
a project.
think I did very well. Here are two spellings tests – note the date – a
(20 March 2002 Pupil correspondence, Appendix 2.2b)
In addition I recorded anecdotal evidence from pupils’ class teachers and parents in
my reflective journal.
Class teacher E said, I watched J grow in stature before my very eyes
as he spoke to his peers about how he learned.
(05 April 2003 Journal, Appendix 2.1d)
J’s mum says, He’s never been so happy. He does his homework by
himself. I feel redundant.
(07 June 2003 Journal, Appendix 2.1d)
190
191

Further confirmation of increases in self-perception can be seen in the contrast
between pupils’ artwork at the beginning of my research (see Picture 5.1 above) and
their pictures at the end of my research (Pictures 7.3, 7.4 and 7.5 below) where they
late new positive feelings, for them, towards their learning.
that I am happy. School is easier and I’m
happy now
said, There is a blue sky. I am
playing hurling.
of mood are
re
Pupil C said, I think L likes being in the park.
Pupil G asked, Are there apples on the
tree?
Pupil N answered, Yes. There are apples
on my tree in the garden. I was happy
and I liked them. The rainbow is saying
Picture 7.3 and discussion of ‘School is easier’ by Pupil N (aged 9 years)
Pupil S
Pupil H asked, What kind
you in?
Pupil S answered, Happy. There are nets.
I find difficulties in English spellings so
that’s why I want to learn sport
Picture 7.4 and discussion of ‘I am happy’ by Pupil S
Picture 7.5 ‘Before and After’ by Pupil M (aged 12 years)
The c shelters
from top of
the w presentations of dramatic changes in Pupil M before and after
my re
construct their own identities as able
of learning disability (dyslexia)] was no longer
oung advocated at an abstract level, which was,
can listen.’
(Young 2000, p.184)
Signi not only
centre
propo ulture and
ontexts in which I live. I have changed my practice especially in my relationships
referred to in Chapter Five, questioning and checking my new understandings
ontrasts in the picture above, between Pupil M’s cry for help as he
an electric thunder storm and his joyful arm-waving when he stands on
orld, are visual re
search.
Introducing a form of voice that was appropriate for my pupils highlighted two
significant issues around identity, both for the children participating in my research
and myself. Pupils, rather than being disabled by the learning environment in which
they were placed, were in fact enabled by it. The changes I made in my practice
provided an educational model of ability rather than an educational model of
disability as described by Ware (2003). Rather than being learning disabled by the
education system the pupils in my research had been given opportunities, through
various forms of voice in art and dialogue, to
learners. In this way ‘the label [
conflated with the labeled’ (Hudak and Kiln 2001, p.6). I claim that the changes in
my pedagogy had achieved in practice, within a framework of social justice and
care, what Y
conditions for all persons to learn and use satisfying and expansive
skills in socially recognised settings and enable then to play and
communicate with others or express their feelings and perspectives on
social life in contexts where others
ficantly, I had come to a new understanding that my identity does
on me. Instead I have come to the view that identity is, as Derrida (1988)
ses, about personal engagement with the social formations of the c
c
with my pupils within the culture and contexts of my work in a way that is in
keeping with the epistemological stance that I have explained in this thesis, where I
position knowledge as personal yet created in relationship with others. I have
changed my practice according to new insights from the children participating in
my research. I have therefore demonstrated that my pedagogy is not about the
management of knowledge transfer but I have travelled through the mirror, which I
192
against the pupils who remain outside the mirror, thus coming to an understanding
of myself and my thinking with and in relation with my pupils. I have realised that
my identity as a teacher, my individual sense of being (McNiff and Whitehead
006, p.225), is influenced by my pupils.
(b) Reflection
he pupils and I together are the fifth transformational tidal wave of influence in my
that has brought us to this contributive
rm of social justice.
I exp ow jou vide ties in my r reflection
and metacognition, for both my pupils
~Journaling as a proce his r
Through journaling, as in Part Three m tha to
appreciate the value of h
learn. I encouraged my ag f j
content and implications of my pupils’ journals dem f
their own ne ng, a
I cal st di I C c
‘Thi Lea
ary 2004 nd
Pupils’ journal writing provided a for f
learning over a sustained period. As a ese
journals became personal records of ils them
learning for the year. Their journals also listed personal task-specific learning
strategies as in the following example:
2
T
research. Together we have contributed to our understandings about what dyslexia
means to those who have it. We have also contributed to a process to enhance pupils’
self-perception. Our contributions can be seen as countering the injustices that we
experienced prior to my research. Our contributions are a practical form of justice.
Reflection was a major part of the process
fo
now lain h rnaling pro d opportuni research fo
and myself
for the pupils in t
, I clai
ers with specific learning disability (dyslexia)
e in a similar form o
individual
ss of learning
I described
asking how ot
pupils to eng
esearch
t I personally came
ournaling to mine. The
onstrated the range o
w learni
led my la
ngs I Can Do
(15
s in the two examples that follow:
ary ‘Things
and How I
Janu
an Do’. This year I’m
rned Them’.
Pupil journal, Appe
m of positive self-talk as well as a record o
well as forming dat
what my pup
alling it
ix 2.1g)
for my research th
selves value as their
193
I lea e sittin r a lo
othe ut I j en d
it. B n s I j
reme er it all.
(14 March Ap
The learning strategies listed by my pupils included traditiona
modelling, rote learning, multisensory and co-operative learning (Slavin 2003).
hese strategies were task-specific in that each pupil chose strategies that they found
ut what they know and how
ey come to know it.
ow discuss my own perspective on journaling with examples of how it provided
ata about changes in my practice and philosophical understandings.
pening my journal to public scrutiny provided evidence of my own metacognition
terms of my developing thinking. In the following quotations I show my
ent with various learning
rategies. Here is an example.
was questioning if my changes in practice had empowered pupils to learn in their
rned my ball
rs do it b
ut if I try to d
mb
t steps by
ust watch. Th
o it at the begi
g and watching fo
at the end I just stan
ning with the other
2002 Pupil journal,
ng time. The
up and I can do
ust can’t
pendix 2.1e)
l ones of learning from
T
appropriate for specific learning tasks. In their journals the pupils have engaged in
positive self-talk, identified learning strategies and their transferability to their other
learning needs. These journals therefore provide evidence of the metacognitive
awareness of the pupils, in that the pupils are writing abo
th
I n
d
O
in
questioning of my role as I observed my children experim
st
I was called out of the room. The pupils continued discussing their next
learning targets. Wow, they have continued learning without me. The
tape-recording of their discussions, in particular the section after I had
left the room, made me consider if I was dispensable.
(30 March 2002 Journal, Appendix 2.1b)
I
own ways and also questioning if pupils had now the competence to transfer their
learning to other situations. The quotation above demonstrates how I used journaling
to reflect ‘on action and in action’ as described by Schön (1995, p.27) during my
research project. To move beyond anecdotal jottings of incidents and actions
recorded by me in a diary, I adapted the Intensive Journal method of Progoff (1983).
194
It provided a format and process that covered the multiple aspects of my work within
the boundaries of one journal. Journaling for me became exactly as McNiff and
Whitehead (2002) say:
You can document how your own perceptions changed over time and show
how you used new learning to make better sense of the situations.
(McNiff and Whitehead 2002, p.94)
The following example demonstrates my developing understanding of my role as a
teacher in what was a new form of learning and teaching for me. I became aware that
y journal provided data on how I was able to monitor my practice in order to
chang actions
that fo
able 7.4: My Journaling
m
e and move forward. An example of this was my reflections and the
llowed one journal entry.
T
Date Log Dialogue Reflection Meaning
14
May
2003
W has his
head on
the table
when he
writes.
How can he
write like
this? Is he
the only one
who does
this? No.
Some others
in his class
How can I check if
this is common to
other pupils with
specific learning
disability
(dyslexia)? Ask
him. He says the
letters jump less
Why didn’t I think of
asking W in the first
place? His reason ties
in with some of the
specific learning
disability (dyslexia)
literature. In future
talk to the pupils with
do it. when he is close to
the page.
specific learning
disability (dyslexia)
more.
W’s legs
are
twisted
around the
chair legs.
Is this a
balance
thing? Do
others do
this?
I will make a
checklist of actions
that Pupil W does. I
will observe classes
from 2nd to 5th as
they write and tick
if pupils without
specific learning
disability (dyslexia)
pupils have similar
movements.
W and other pupils
with specific learning
disability (dyslexia)
toe tapped and did
quick knee shaking.
These movements
seemed to help their
concentration rather
than decrease it. So I
need to encourage
rather than discourage
it.
195
W’s books Does he Is this related to W does have mixed
good in goals.
always
seem to be
at
awkward
angles
realise what
he is doing?
lateral preferences?
I will check if he
sees, hears, catches
and kicks with his
right side, left side
or both.
laterality. So do B, J
and S. [pupils who
participated] and all
play in goals. They
have difficulty
running backwards
and catching balls
from different sides.
Yet they are very
I noted the variety of movements pupils make when they were sitting quietly writing
t work. The sample below from this record shows a pupil with legs
isted around chair legs to steady himself as he wrote.
bout the practice and the philosophy behind it.
Through journaling I reflected on my pedagogical approaches. I presented my
or reading alone. Together the pupils and I built up a photographic record (Appendix
2.4f) of them a
tw

Picture 7.6: Showing a pupil’s position when writing
I developed ideas about the pupils’ toe tapping, quick knee-shaking and other such
movements, which could be connected to co-existing difficulties of Attention Deficit
Disorder. I found that the practical relevance of my conclusions were that both the
children and I gained a new understanding that their movements, which may have
seemed to be unusual, individual and disruptive movements were in fact common
and helpful to pupils’ concentration while they worked.
I found that journaling could be conceptualised as a metacognitive activity in which
I became aware of my new learning a
understanding of my own teaching methods and their relationship to the work of
well-known educational theorists, such as Skinner (1954), Thorndyke (1917), Piaget
(1970, 1971 and 1977) and Vygotsky (1978 and 1986), at the 14th International
196
Special Education Conference (McDonagh, 2002). In my presentation I produced
evidence to show developments in my teaching from a behaviourist model, to a
constructivist model, and finally towards a form of teaching that showed my
commitment to the social creation of knowledge. Through that process I have gained
an in-depth understanding of how I position myself in terms of ideas of knowledge
generation. In 2002 I had begun to place myself as a mediator of my children’s
nowledge, coaxing them through the zone of proximal development (Vygotsky
978 and 1986). Through further reflection I have since reconceptualised my role as
mediator. As one of my validation group said,
You are doing more than that. You are allowing the children to be the
mediators of their own knowledge as well. So not only are you
mediating but the children are also mediating.
(12 July 2004 Validation meeting record, Appendix 2.5d)
came to realise, with the help of my validation group, that I was engaged in a form
f developmental inter-relational activity in that my new theory of practice would
ot have happened without my activities or without the activities of my pupils either.
herefore there was a reflexive form of parallel knowledge generation – a mirroring
m it, a
enerative transformational process in which I was creating new and more refined
In
rawing comparisons between my own learning experiences and the experiences of
my pupils, I am conscious that I too am part of my living practical theory of
contributive justice. I too am contributing to my own living theory of justice,
grounded in my practice, to address the marginalisation that I had felt.
k
1
a
I
o
n
T
– going on in my research or as McNiff and Whitehead (2006, p.32-33) ter
g
forms of knowledge.

I have come to recognise that I have adopted a new perspective that appears to be
contrary to traditional perceptions. I have come to understand that journaling is a
powerful process for positive reinforcement and self-talk for me as a teacher. This
understanding is beneficial because, like many other teachers, I felt marginalised
because knowledge about pedagogy was presented in a top-down approach with
third level institutions being the arbiters of what constitutes best practice and valid
theories of learning (McDonagh 2004b). Ideas around marginalisation drew me
again towards developing a living theory of learning to teach for social justice.
d
197
I claim to now understand how m
interconnected as I explained in the m
y p are
etaphor of the ‘waves’ and in the previous
(2 00), I believe that identity is a complex
ips in ngaged. The
creation that I have engaged with is a logic
eation that positions identity as a complex interweaving network of
y emergent living theory of contributive
ive
ommitm
t tion to
d in art One, bright children with obvious
d ic talents) were labelled as ‘learning
ion for accessing tuition for their ac e
n as unjust. This understanding has been informed by changes in
etailed in the section above. These changes occurred because of the
I had chosen. My research is about learning for,
. My new understanding of justice is from a
of research work that values voice and personal experience (Griffiths 2003;
itio has shifted the focus from theorising
; Kant 1965; Hume 1740/1962) towards a living
ce (D h
‘practical philosophy’ because it engages
gardless of their academic or social positioning.
ilosophy ‘as, with and for’ (Griffiths 2003, p.21) rather than a philosophy
to that of Griffiths
(2003). Reading Griffiths’s Action for Social Justice in Education (2003) helped me
ersonal and professional identities
section on positive self-talk. Like Young
interweaving network of relationsh
dialogical form of logic and knowledge
of cr
0
which individuals are e
relationships between participants.
7.4 Articulating and explaining m
social justice
My growing awareness and metacognit
revisit my understanding of my c
reflection around my practice led me to
ent to social justice. At the beginning of
my research, social justice, for me, mean
an apparen
the opposite of injustice and a reac
t injustice. As I describe
talents (which were not necessarily aca
disabled’, as a condit
P
em
ademic difficulties. I cam
to see this situatio
my practice, d
form of self-study action research
with and from pupils (McDonagh 2003)
tradition
Sullivan 2004; Roche 2003). That trad
about justice (Rawls 1971and 1999
form of social justice with a
n
nd for justi
resonates with what Griffiths (2003) calls
with the conditions of all people re
is ph
unkwu and Griffiths 2002). My researc
It
‘about’ and ‘applied to’.
In this section I examine conceptual issues around social justice and compare my
living practical theory of learning to teach for social justice
198
shape and articulate my theory of learning to teach for social justice. In the
Figure 7.1: A model for social justice in education (Griffiths 2003, p.60)
riffiths’s (2003) work is about others’ actions and she takes the view that social
ing how
practical social justice is about localised issues as well as large scale theorising about
them. ibution’
where reness’ and
‘contribution’. I believe that my pupi
Table 7.5 below) in order to improve their learning and my learning experiences.
remainder of this chapter I will refer to her model for social justice in education
(Figure 7.1 below), as I describe, explain and analyse the links between my findings
and my practical living theory of contributive social justice. Griffiths’s cyclical
approach as in Figure 7.1 is analogous to the cyclical nature of my learning in my
research.
Respecting and
valuing self and
others
Listening and
talking
G
justice is a verb – constantly under revision and never resolved (Griffiths 2003,
p.55). She states that the good for each person both affects and depends on the
good of all. In practice she envisages this idea, as working in small face-to-face
groups. In this way she includes ‘little stories’ and ‘grand narratives’, show
Her theory of social justice involves both ‘recognition’ and ‘redistr
as the terms that have arisen in my research are ‘awa
ls and I engaged with all these features (as in
Meeting
together to
act together
Conversing and Taking
action consulting
199
Table
In my
theor
7.5: Linking my research practices to Griffiths’s (2003) theory of
practical social justice.
research, data to support my
y of social justice is found in
Griffiths’s theory of social justice
includes
Discussions at weekly meetings of
group
were classes and
comprised boys and girls aged 9–12
years (see my research design Chapter
small face-to-face groups.
s of up to eight pupils. The pupils
not from the same
Six)
Background injustice issues (Chapter
Three) are shown to be addressed by
reflective journals about new learning in
my research design (Chapter Six); my
journal (Appendix 2.1a-d) and pupils’
journals (Appendix 2.1e-g)
‘little stories’ showing how practical
social justice is about localised issues
Background injustices in the system of
educating pupils with specific learning
disability (see the contextualisation of
my research in Part Two and its
significance in Part Five).
‘grand narratives’ showing how
practical social justice is about localised
issues
New learning for myself and my pupils
in Part 4.
large scale theorising about them
In Chapter Eight changes in learning
situations and strategies were generated
through interactions
Pupil to pupil;
Pupil to teacher;
Me to pupils;
Pupils to me.
The expansion of recognition and
redistribution to wider school
community is explained in Chapters 10
and 11.
‘recognition’ and ‘redistribution’
Pupils learned about different ways to
learn spellings individually and in
groups and so all improved their
learning (Chapter Eight). good
Improved ways of learning for pupils
for each person both affects and
depends on the good of all
improved my understanding of teaching
and my teaching of them (Chapter
Nine).
Table 7.5 gives a framework of practice but there are no references in it to personal
or epistemological values. I have spoken in this chapter of how I came to recognise
my own learning and so in the remainder of this chapter I will explain how I came to
a contributive theory of social justice from within my practice.
200
I have demonstrated how my new form of pedagogy enabled my pupils to make
explicit the latent fund of personal knowledge they have about the effects of specific
learning disability (dyslexia). As part of this process I have also made my own
learning explicit in my teaching. This is innovative and contrary to the dominant
form in educational research, which, as Griffiths (2003) highlights, assumes the idea
f working from propositional theory. She speaks of ‘theory into evidence into
Th hen, from whom, how and what of learning remains
I found t wareness of what and how learning occurred in my practice
involv f others’
arning strategies. I perceive my research as a search that will never finish. This
o
theory into action’ (p.47) where researchers begin by explaining theoretical
frameworks and end with practical outcomes. I have however worked in a form
where experience and action move into reflection, then into action, and then further
reflection with many of these activities also happening simultaneously. In self-study
action research I found that actions are informed by, and inform, lived experience.
My developing living theory of learning to teach for social justice relates to the ideas
of Griffiths (2003) when she says,
e w
unpredictably mysterious and intertwined with human
relationships…No wonder learning escapes systems and fool proof
methods.
(Griffiths 2003, p.18)
hat individual a
ed an intertwined process of peer relationships and discussions o
le
ongoing search resonates with Plato’s search for explanations of his world.
He devoted his life’s work to this search but he also slowly discovered
and continually warned by his own example, that it was a serious
illusion to think that any human could arrive at a final goal.
(Hogan 2001 cited in Griffiths 2003, p.53)
The unfinished character of learning itself, as I analysed it in my research, was
pinpointed by my validation group when they said about my evidence,
201
P said: So it’s about the uniqueness of the individual, their capacity for
freedom of choice, and change.
M said: Change. Onchange.

going learning. Ability for on-going learning and
(November 2003 Taped conversation and transcript, original in
he
shown how I created a more just situation for myself and for
y children with specific learning disability. I experienced learned helplessness
those children are often marginalised through not having their needs met within the
Appendix 2.5g)
I was however experiencing difficulties in making links between living forms of
theory and a distributive form of justice. Within a distributive form of justice I
perceive justice to be conceptualised as an object. The concept of a distributive form
of justice can be best understood from a propositional perspective. Instead my
changing practice and my reflections on it centred on my own living perspective.
These two perspectives could not be reconciled within my research. The idea of
distributive justice is a concept in which justice is distributed equally. This form of
abstract conceptualisation is not commensurate with my own epistemological stance,
which is grounded in my ontological values. The living theory of learning to teach
for social justice that I developed in my practice offers openness for all to contribute
according to their capabilities. Their contribution can lead to a more just situation for
themselves and others. The prerequisites for this theory are providing first t
freedom for the individual to gain confidence in his or her own abilities; and second
the freedom for reflection and metacognition. The living practical theory of justice
that I am claiming to have generated has grown from within my practice. I believe
that contributive justice is participative. It is based in a dialogical form of logic that
encourages imagination and creativity (Whitehead 1976). The practical living
theory of learning to teach for social justice that I am claiming to have generated
involves contribution rather than distribution.
In this chapter I have
m
prior to this research around how best to improve my own and my pupils’ learning. I
have produced evidence of my own learning around the ways in which my pupils
learn. I have analysed how my pupils can be shown as able learners, each with
his/her own learning style and capacities. I reversed the normative situation where
202
educational system, or through being dismissed as disabled learners. I found that
pupils with specific learning disability had previously experienced learned
elplessness and had been perceived by teachers as ‘lazy’. The evidence in this
be seen in the
llowing quotation from a conference on Critical Debates in Action Research
ilitation of the voices
f my pupils:
normally silent to be heard.
These voices tell stories of which I and other educators may not be aware. This
occurred because self-questioning is at the centre of my classroom practice and my
research methods. I have highlighted the need for com
reflection in order to understand my own thinking and
feature that tends not to be present in traditional forms
me the voice of the researcher has to be self-questionin
(Winter 2002, p.151). This idea of self-question
metacognition. Winter reminds us, however, that each voice has to ‘question itself in
esearch work of moving forwards the
h
chapter shows how I facilitated a new form of communication and voice for my
pupils through their paintings. This chapter shows how I have found a voice for my
pupils and myself.
The concept of voice has been a key feature in my research. The role of children’s
voice has been established by The National Children’s Strategy (Government of
Ireland 2000), which made important strides in allowing children to express their
opinions. Shevlin and Rose (2003) suggest that ‘Such legislation has placed an onus
on professionals to give greater consideration to pupils’ voice’ (Shevlin and Rose
2003, p.8). The importance of pupil voice in my research can
fo
(McDonagh 2003) in which a researcher commented on my fac
o
The combination of the children’s voices and your reflections on their
learning opened the doors of the classroom and pushed out the walls –
a way for other educators like myself to be in your classroom and learn
from the lived experiences. The very simple yet multilayered idea of
asking pupils themselves how they learn, and the realisation that these
children have a very clear sense of the ways that work for them struck
me very forcibly.
(22 June 2003 Correspondence Appendix 2.5f)
I claim to have made space for the voices of those
munity enquiry in ‘aware’
knowledge generation – a
of educational research. For
g – ‘the reflexive principle’
ing is equally central in
relation to the other voices as part of the r
203
debates between voices’ (Winter 2002, p.152). The dialecti
allows for a plurality and variety of voice, which adds ve
potential of the research.
In this chapter I am claiming that rather than adopt a l
conceptualisation of justice, for example that of Rawls (1
generated a living theory of contributive justice, as part of learning to teach for social
justice, that is informed by ideas to do with people’s capacity to think for themselves
at justice in education is a
e concept that can be understood in relation to people’s practices by providing
opportunities for the children who participated in my research to become aware of
and investigate their own learning successes and transfer their ne gs to
other situations. For me, ensuring social justice involved beco nd
investigating my ways of teaching. Furthermore, by seeking accreditation for the
theorising of my practice in this PhD thesis, I can be seen as opening opportunities
for others to generate their living theories, which could in turn form a knowledge
base for the teaching profession (Snow 2001). For both my pupils and myself justice
means transforming our positions of marginalisation within the education system.
claim to have developed an emancipatory form of practice that took into account
the practical learning of both teacher and pupils. To do so I b
ways of thinking and theorising that celebrate my own c dge
creation, a form of social justice in learning, in that it rec
capacities to learn and think critically. These ideas are gr
values around freedom and the capacity of all to be kn
dialogical research approach permitted all participants to be
part in the research process, thereby creating our own answ
own living theories.
I claim to have maintained equilibrium of power between those participating in my
research and myself, which Noddings (2002) suggests could be problematic when
e
nd theorising in the face of the dominance of propositional forms of theory, and in
cal principle, he argues,
to the transformati
traditional propositiona
971 and 1999), I have
and negotiate their own ways of learning. I have shown th
liv
w understandin
ming aware of a
I
ecame involved in new
apacity for knowle
ognised our individual
ounded in my existing
owledge creators. My
valued and take a full
ers and generating our
working within values of care. I have also maintained open-endedness in my practic
a
204
doing so have demonstrated that the values, which underpi e
logic in which it is grounded.
I am moving towards the generation of a living theory o
based in how one lives one’s life. This has some similaritie
of developing theory from the questions one asks about the ives.
I am living my theory and communicating my theory in the ways I live. My theory is
transformational. It is grounded in an open-ended form of
the human capacity for learning and in particular my own r learning and
g and practice ‘transform continuously
to each other’ (McNiff and Whitehead 2006, p.255). This continuous rolling
now want to show that the standards by which I judge my research are living in my
to be engrossed in her
report.
icture 7.7: Presenting reports to a class
n my research, inform th
f social justice, which is
s with the Platonic stance
world in which one l
questioning, grounded in
capacity fo
on-going learning. Personal theories of learnin
in
fluidity is reminiscent of the metaphorical fifth wave, which incorporated the
strongest influences in my research, namely my pupils and myself.
7.5 The living standards by which I judge my findings
I
practice. To do so I have placed photos below of my pupils presenting their reports
in which they explain dyslexia to themselves and others. The pictures were taken
from a video, made by a class teacher L, when a cohort of pupils who participated in
my research presented their reports on ‘Explaining dyslexia to myself and others’ to
teacher L’s class. When the video was made by the class teacher, a resource teacher,
a student teacher, the school Principal, thirty-five pupils aged (nine to ten years),
eight pupils who were members of one cohort of my research participants (aged nine
to twelve years) and myself were all in the classroom.
.
Pupil L reads from her
report to pupils in a
mainstream class other than
her own class. Pupils appear
P
205
206
Pupil G is sharing his
report ‘Explaining
my learning
difficulties to myself
and others’ to pupils
in a mainstream class
that was not his own
class.
Picture 7.8: Sharing reports with a mainstream class

In picture 7.9
Pupil S is sharing her
to be engrossed in her
report.
Picture 7.10: Sharing reports with the wider school community
pupils question
Pupil G on his
report.
Picture 7.9: Peer critique of reports
report ‘Explaining
dyslexia to myself and
others’ with pupils in a
mainstream class that
was not her own class.
School Principal and a
student teacher
(standing) also appear
207
Pupil H smiles b
as she skips bac
seat. Applause
the school Princ
roadly
k to her
from me,
ipal and
all in the classroom rings
ad
stood in front of the
class and answered their
t this point I offer an explanation of how my values came to act as my living
. Both I as a teacher and the pupils who participated in my
search had freedom to voice our own ways of knowing within education systems
ional theory. I had changed my practice to one of
reater equity based on my new learning from my pupils’ research and my research.
in her ears. She h
questions.
Picture 7.11: Having new learning valued
I had provided my pupils with opportunities to research their own understanding of
specific learning disability (dyslexia). They had presented their reports to their
peers and teachers. The pictures above show how my pupils validated their claims
to new knowledge and understanding about dyslexia and about awareness of their
capability to learn.
A
standards of judgement
re
that values objective knowledge. I had shown compassion in recognising the learned
helplessness of my pupils and myself and we had learned from and with each other.
We continued our inclusive ways of learning and sharing our new knowledge and
understanding of dyslexia into the other classrooms of our school. In doing so we
achieved a form of justice to counter the marginalisation caused by existing
provision and dominant proposit
g
In compiling these reports my pupils and I demonstrated a form of human dignity
where we came to value our personal ways of learning as well as learning with
others. What was happening in the classroom in the pictures above was part of my
new epistemology of practice where knowledge was transferred in oral and
collaborative ways
The d wledge the
uniqu rning and
chang e actions were grounded in the Christian values that I hold. I have
alread addressing
y own learned helplessness in a significantly different way to those teachers in the
y values around justice were shown as I was developing my living theory of
arning to teach for social justice. I was not only speaking but also acting in ways
at set about correcting conditions of learned helplessness and in doing so
ctualised the ideas around the equality of humans – both pupils and teachers. In
oing so I demonstrated my respect for the capabilities of all my pupils. My value of
holeness can be seen in my acceptance and commitment to the reconciliation of a
lurality of approaches to teaching and learning, mindful of the need to recognise
body, spirit and mind of all involved in my research.
There is evidence of my value of service in my commitment towards living my
values in the changes I have brought about in my practice. The listening, talking and
communicating with my pupils, as I have described in this chapter, about how they
understood specific learning disability (dyslexia) was based in my belief in equality.
In promoting positive self-talk and reflection as antidotes to learned helplessness I
provided opportunities for a form of freedom which acknowledged a capacity for
self determination in thought, speech and action for the good of myself and my
pupils. The following quotation provides evidence of the change in my own learned
helplessness.
ata throughout this chapter is derived from actions, which ackno
eness of my individual pupils and their capacity to contribute to lea
e. Thes
y articulated these values in tables 3.2 and 5.1. When I wrote about
m
research of Kerr (2001), I demonstrated compassion in that I recognised my needs in
my pupils and my pupils’ needs in me. By adopting an internal locus of control I
have confirmed my belief in self-efficacy, by which I mean a belief that one’s
behaviour can make a difference and a belief in the capacity of the individual. This
was a demonstration of my commitment to human dignity by recognising the
capacity of others and by showing care for each and every individual I encountered.
M
le
th
a
d
w
p
208
You spoke of a different learning experience of an older sibling with
younger sibling and the mo
er sibling through your impr
the same disability as a re individualised
treatment of the young ovement of your
practice. Now you speak of no longer feeling a helplessness in your
are creating a more just system of education in
d on your belief in your capability and the
children’s capability to learn.
ust and service – that
dress and transform the injustices described in the background to my research.
practice because you
your classroom base
(21 November 2004 Transcript of validation meeting, original in data
archive Appendix 2.5d)
The significance of the living form of theory that I am developing is that I have
brought into life the aspirations of the rhetoric of The Task Force Report on Dyslexia
(Ireland, Department of Education and Science 2002b) and Understanding Dyslexia
(Ireland, Department of Education and Science and Northern Ireland, Department of
Education 2004). The validation of my living theory of justice lies in evidence of
these values being lived out in my practice as both a teacher and researcher. In this
chapter I have demonstrated in practical ways the values on which I base my
understanding of justice – values around freedom, respect, tr
re
7.6 Summary
I have spoken about how I learned to overcome my learned helplessness, and enable
my pupils to do the same. I have challenged dominant theories in the literature about
how to deal with learned helplessness. I have highlighted that, for sustainable
learning to occur, people need to learn for themselves how to improve the quality of
their own lives, rather than have someone intervene on their behalf, which is what
the dominant literatures suggest.
In practical terms I have shown that both I, as a teacher, and children with specific
learning disability, were able learners. I provided the children in my research with
opportunities to use positive self-talk as an antidote to the demotivating influences of
learned helplessness. By providing opportunities for learning through encouraging
voice – as in my children’s artwork – I have reconceptualised my practice and
highlighted what I am doing differently, as I recalled when I wrote in my journal:
209
I am upside-downing things. Teachers are traditionally seen as the
leaders in classroom knowledge not the children. This is upside
downing it. I am generating theory as practice and that is also upside
down.
(10 May 2003 Journal, original in data archive, Appendix 2.1c)
This quotation incorporates the image of the turbulent, unsettling metaphorical fifth
of others.
wave of influence on my research, which helped me to find strategies to transform
negative aspects of my research context into life-affirming situations for both my
pupils and myself. Within this fifth wave both the pupils and I have built on the
power base of our strengths and created a new reality, where my practice is centred
on a pedagogy of liberation, which is grounded in my commitments to change and
the valuing
210
CHAPTER EIGHT: The potential significance of my living theory of learning
to teach for social justice
ing to teach for social
stice in relation to pupils with specific learning disability (dyslexia) required
changes happened and their
earning. Their action research was happening
longside and as part of my own action research. We all developed living theories
organ fic
arning disability; (b) conceptual issues around understandings of learning theories;
unts as edu
he ion of collaborative partnerships in
cation, where my children and I worked in an atmosphere of mutual respect;
out each other ouring to overcome obstacles
ms of pedagogy, curriculum and assessment. The
pr ctical actions but also
e changes in my thinking are related to my own
ew learning, which can be seen as in relationship with pupils’ learning. The
8.1 Introduction
In the previous chapter I showed how my living theory of learning to teach for
justice was grounded in my practice; a practice that is about helping pupils with
specific learning disability (dyslexia) to find ways to avoid being disabled by written
words within their school contexts. My living theory of learn
ju
changes in my practice. I now want to explain why these
potential significance. Change in how one teaches comes, I believe, from new
personal knowledge and the practice of teaching itself rather than from propositional
theory or commercially produced ‘How-to-teach-it’ programmes. So, in this chapter
I want to explain what it was that aided me in changing my practice towards one that
was more socially just, and indicate its potential significance.
My personal new learning is at the core of the changes that I have made. This
process of change was influenced by my pupils’ own action research into how they
learned spellings. I reflected on their research, related it to the literature and found
that their new learning influenced my l
a
from studying our practices. I can describe and analyse our findings in terms of (a)
isational issues around pupils’ learning and my teaching of those with speci
le
(c) understandings of what co cational knowledge.
In this chapter I am showing t
edu
format
learning from and ab while endeav
within school structures in ter
changes that have occurred in my
eflect changes in my thinking. Thes
actice are not only pra
r
n
211
influence of their learning on my learning has convinced me that all individuals,
given the opportunity, can make important contributions to new understandings of
teaching and learning. The validity of my claim that these changes in my own
practice influenced the changes in the children’s practice was tested at several levels
– in the classroom, in conference presentations and research seminars.
how
pupils engaged in action research projects alongside mine, and (2) how I engaged in
upils. In each ribe the action
these reflections and how
ere were four rec emes within my new
of t my pupils’
and my own learning. We engaged in a dialogue of equality when
ur understandings of specific learning
ng that time the pupils and I brought new personal
f
ly researched in this way.
2. Our co-construction of new ideas can be seen as a valuing of the person. I
There are two main sections in this chapter. They comprise account of (1)
action research projects alongside the p section I desc
research, reflect on it, then analyse my new learning from
it influenced my practice. Th urring key th
learning:
1. First, I developed an understanding
learning
he relationship between
we worked together to tease out o
disability (dyslexia). Duri
knowledge and understandings to the
(dyslexia), which had not been previous
ield of specific learning disability
provided pupils with the opportunity to be free to realise and exercise their
value and knowledge.
3. I critiqued my own stance in relation to my pedagogies. I offered an
interpersonal form of teaching that is different from the dominant didactic
practices of teaching children with specific learning disability (dyslexia).
4. Throughout my learning process I have taken into account my specific
ontological and epistemological values. In doing so I have found ways to
transform the marginalisation in dominant school provision of pupils with
specific learning disability (dyslexia) through the imposition of traditional
forms of theory and learning on those pupils. I have moved towards a more
just from of practice, in which all talents are valued and all may legitimately
make their contributions.
212
8.2 Pupils engaged in action research projects alongside mine
ed 11 to 12 years, learned spellings and in the second
olumn I relate their own words to different learning strategies. In answering my
ings?’ the children indicated the inappropriateness
The
spe g
This section is about how my new ways of teaching involved my children to a
greater extent in their own learning than before. In doing so, I demonstrate again a
shift from the perspective that learning theories can be applied to practice. From this
perspective, teaching is understood as training in skills to be practised, where the
teacher is a trainer and pupils are objects to be trained. I organise my text to show
the actions that I took, and the learning that resulted from the action. The episodes I
outline here can be understood as cycles of action-reflection.
~Action-reflection cycle one: ‘How I learn spellings’
I describe how my children became personally aware of how they learn. Each child
answered the question, ‘How do I learn spellings?’ during one-to-one sessions with
me. I encouraged them to speak but did not suggest any methods. Their answers
were tape-recorded. The table below shows the various ways in which the first
cohort of eight children, ag
c
question, ‘How do you learn spell
of a one-size-fits-all approach. The table below shows not only that the range of
strategies corresponds to the number of children, but also that there was no
replication of strategies.
Table 8.1: Methods of learning spellings identified by children compared with
learning strategies (originals in data archive see Appendices 2.4a and
8.10)
children said, I learned
llin s by
Learning style/strategy
the sounds of the words Auditory
trying to
count h
it.
find how many bits. I first
ow many vowel sounds are in
Visual
rhyming the words Phonemic Awareness
breaking the words up Syllabification
going one bit after another Sequencing
learning them off by heart Rote learning
looking at it three times and saying it
three times, then writing it three times
Multisensory approach
213
The activity above was repeated by the second cohort of eight children, aged 9 to 10
years and by the third cohort of children, aged 7 to 8 years. The same question was
posed by myself in the former case and by another resource teacher in the case of the
latter. Some of the additional strategies mentioned by these groups are in Table
8.2. They demonstrate combinations of strategies.
Table 8.2: Additional methods of learning spellings identified by children
compared with learning strategies (originals in data archive – see
Appendices 2.4a and 2.10)
The children said, I learned spellings by Learning style
Saying, no sing-songing, the letters out loud. Auditory
Seeing it written on the ceiling. Visualisation
Saying the bits I know and go for the other bits. Visual and Phonemic
Awareness
Looking at the beginning and then at the end.
They’re easy. And then I look for the middle bits
and learn them.
Syllabification combining
visual and auditory
I start with the first bit, then the end bit, then I Sequencing
put in the middle.
I keep saying them over and over. Rote learning
I write the letters big with my marker and say the
sounds at the same time. I write them in the sand
and on the board, then I write them with my eyes
shut. After that I know
Multisensory approach
them.
I found that my children with specific learning disability (dyslexia) had individual
ng. By tape recording their comments
demonstrated my respect for individual pupils in that I found an oral method for
ways of learning spellings. I used the strategy of recording pupils’ ideas on other
occasions to help the children find out if they had individual ways of learning other
problematic areas for them – for example how they attacked unknown words and
how they tried to understand unfamiliar texts. The significance of these two areas
will be discussed later in this chapter. This data was gathered in ways that took into
account pupils’ difficulties in reading and writi
I
them to give information that highlighted their capabilities rather than their
difficulties. I will explain in the next section how this provided evidence that the
pupils learned in a variety of ways; in fact they used most of the strategies
commonly used for learning spellings (Westwood 2003, p.166-180)
214
Reflec
Some of my children had scored up to 5 years and 4 months below their
chron pelling tests
ithin individualised resource teaching the
y between the children’s achievement level and potential becomes
particularly apparent
partic children
thems 02) and
featur s could also become obvious. Therefore my
inves disability
not only relevant to academic advancement but also has importance for pupils’
class.
o Limiting spellings to essential spelling lists, for example social sight words
tion on cycle one
ological age in spellings. Children’s poor scores on standardised s
are perceived as symptomatic of long-term memory difficulties (Snowling 2000),
which are common to many who have dyslexia. I am not arguing the merits of
testing spellings outside the context of continuous writing. I am focusing on spelling
tests because the testing of words in isolation is currently used in many classrooms
as an indicator of spelling ability. W
discrepanc
through comparisons between their oral and written work, in
ular how they spell. When such discrepancies become obvious to the
elves, at the senior primary level, poor self-perception (McCormack 20
es of learned helplessnes
tigation of the learning of spellings for children with specific learning
is
self-image and self-esteem.
My new learning from cycle one
The significant new learning for me in this part of my research was that children
with specific learning disability, in choosing their individual styles and strategies,
demonstrated their metacognitive awareness of how they learned.
In terms of school structures and the teaching of spellings, current strategies used to
aid the learning of spellings by children with specific learning disability can be
identified in terms of three forms of differentiation:
o Setting spellings at a lower level than those of the mainstream
and the 100 most commonly written words.
o Teaching strategies for learning spellings.
The first two approaches present differentiation in terms of content only. In both
approaches teachers’ lowering of their expectations of their pupils’ ability to learn
has important overtones for pupils’ self-esteem. It affects a child’s ‘perception of
his/her abilities, attitudes and values’ (Slavin 2003, p.82) and hence his/her self-
215
esteem, which is governed by values ‘that each of us places on our own
characteristics and behaviours’ (Slavin 2003, p.82). In the second approach, teachers
limit pupils’ field of learning. However when subsequent low scores on spellings
tests occur children can develop an expectation of failure. In this way learned
helplessness is introduced. The third form of differentiation engages with processes
of learning. Yet teachers often control children’s ways of learning within a
ehaviouristic approach where the teacher decides how spellings are to be learned,
ience 1999b).
ements of the children in my research, however, challenged the
b
teaches them and rewards the pupil when the pupil demonstrates what has been
learned. This approach ignores valuable data about children’s learning strengths
available from the psychological testing required by the Department of Education
and Science to diagnose specific learning disability (dyslexia). For example the
Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children III (Wechsler 1992) identifies specific
skills, which could be tapped to aid the learning of spellings, such as perceptual
organisational or processing speed skills.
By contrast I encouraged children to voice their personal strategies and styles with
the question, ‘How do you learn spellings?’ Considering the children’s knowledge
of their learning and how they learn I began to consider conceptual issues around
theories of learning.

Conceptual issues around theories of learning
Tables 8.1 and 8.2 above point to the fact that the pupils in my research had
articulated individualised strategies for learning spellings with a limited overlap of
strategies. This demonstrated the personalised nature of my children’s ways of
learning. These ways were not significantly different from the variety of strategies
named in current literature for children without specific learning disability (Ireland,
Department of Education and Sc
The achiev
description of them in normative discourses as ‘learning disabled’. They had shown
themselves capable of articulating their tacit learning strategies. This is an important
finding given that the learning of spellings is a significant feature of specific learning
difficulties (dyslexia).
216
The dyslexic student has great difficulty building a vocabulary of
words recognised by sight.
(Westwood 2003, p.8)
The causes of this difficulty, says Westwood (2003), as it relates to spellings, are
poor phonological awareness (that is ability to segment and blend sounds) and a
naming speed deficiency in which the child cannot retrieve words, syllables or letter
sounds quickly from his or her long-term memory. Westwood’s advice for
teaching spellings is as follows:

Dyslexic students are often found to be particularly weak in
phonological skills and may rely too heavily on faulty visual memory
for recall of letter patterns. Training them in phonemic awareness and
the application of basic phonic knowledge appears to have a positive
have not been recorded in research
rogrammes, such as that of Westwood (2003, p.166-180). I am also claiming that I
e freedom to express their
effect on spelling ability.
(Westwood 2003, p.172)
Therefore Westwood advocates a ‘training‘ or behaviouristic approach to teaching
and claims only that it ‘appears’ to improve the learning. I agree with him that his
advised approach can only appear to have results because the form of research that
he is reporting deals only with findings that are observable by an outsider. I have
explained at the beginning of this chapter how such a methodology gives limited
success. So I am making the point that the pupils in my research have articulated
individual ways of spellings in ways that
p
have provided pupils with specific learning disability th
ways of learning, and this has enabled them to generate their own new knowledge
and develop their capacity to resolve their problems for themselves.
In my research I have emphasised the children’s capacity to develop their own
awareness of how they learn – they have developed their capacity for metacognition.
By metacognition I mean ‘knowledge about one’s own learning and how one learns’
(Slavin 2003, p.203). In recent years there has been a shift from the theoretical to the
practical relevance of metacognition for teachers and students. For example, Wray
(1994) argues that ‘students can enhance their learning by becoming aware of their
own thinking as they read, write, and solve problems in school’ (Wray 1994, p.103).
217
Many studies have focused on a fundamental question: Can instruction of
metacognitive processes facilitate learning? A key factor in the reported success of
these processes is their ability to enhance motivation and self-esteem (Theide,
Anderson and Therriault 2003; Altermatt and Pomerantz 2003). The form of
metacognition that I have come to understand from my practice differs from these
understandings of metacognition, as I now explain.
Although I have found no reports linking metacogition to the learning of spellings
for children with specific learning disability, there has been research into the value
of metacognition to enhance reading comprehension of those with specific learning
disability (Wray 1994; Theide, Anderson and Therriault 2003; Altermatt and
Pomerantz 2003). But many of the strategies, which purport to develop
addition, Wray (1994) advocates teacher modelling of metacognition.
ray’s writing (1994) builds on the work of Palincsar and Ransom (1988) and
Tonje 1988), among others. Since metacognition means
‘know , p. 203),
teacher modelling of pupil metacognition (Tonjes 1988 cited in Anderson 1988)
y years of practical experiences of teaching both adults and children
with specific learning disability (dyslexia) in a range of teaching settings. As a
resou need, as I explained in the first part of this chapter,
to eng e aware of how
ey encourage metacognition.
idea of giving voice to research
articipants. This notion raises three issues. First, within the concept of giving voice,
metacognition, incorporate a behaviouristic approach of teacher-chosen, selfquestioning
codes to help comprehension as in the model of Palincsar and Ransom
(1988). In
W
s, (1988 in Anderson
ledge about one’s own learning and how one learns’ (Slavin 2003
presumes that there is only one way of learning – one size fits all – and that what
teacher models is the correct way to act. I take issue with this monistic view, from
the grounds of m
rce teacher, I have found the
age with the thinking behind teaching strategies and to becom
th
Influences on my practice: New understandings about what counts as educational
knowledge
I want now to examine the importance for my ways of teaching of the idea of
providing opportunities for children to have a voice in their own ways of learning
and the importance of this issue to educational knowledge and research. Increasingly
practitioner educational research emphasises the
p
218
participants can be positioned as objects of research, which in turn denies their voice
in that ‘the power relationships in the research process are weighted towards the
researcher as an expert on children, and on how to study children and on what to
study about children’ (Woodhead and Faulkner 2002, p.12 cited in Christensen and
James 2002). Second, in many papers, researchers consider the meaning that
underpins voice rather than the voice of the participants per se. This interpretative
research lens has a dominant impact on the narrative heard at all stages of research
from the formation of the initial question to dissemination of findings (Punch
002a and 2002b). Third, the researchers’ use of propositional forms of theoryconstruction
of participants’ experiences in
o rtr he (S 04
My re nges the conventional notion of ‘giving voice’ to research
articipants in educational research and highlights a form of research that aims to
cott and Usher 1996, p.31).
his change was grounded in my values around human dignity, equality and
flection cycle Spel
rned spellings.
d and
children
sequen n
gs
.
tape of ea
recordings they had listened to. The
ee Appendix 2.4a and 2.4b). I transcribed these tapes and the children or I
sometimes annotated the transcripts of their conversations to refresh their memories
2
based understandings can lead to a re
terms f a selective po ayal of t ir voice tavaros 20 ).
search challe
p
generate educational theory and changes in a teacher’s practice by valuing the voice
of research participants. A major change in my practice was that I found that I have
created an opportunity and ‘a space from which the voices of those not normally
heard (in education) can be heard’ (Lather 1991 cited in S
T
freedom. I have shown that children with specific learning disability can identify
personal methods of learning differently, which might in future be a guide to
appropriate teaching strategies for schools.
~Action-re 2: ‘How We Learn lings’
Each child described duri
The individual sessions,
ng an individual session
in action-reflection cycle
were offered opportunities to listen again and a
t weeks. A second recording was t
children listened individ
flect and comment. Again
ch cohort, as a group wh
originals of these tapes are in my dat
how he or she lea
1 were audio tape-recorde
dd to their
hen made, during a
ually to each other’s recordin
I tape-recorded their comments
ere the children talked about the
a archive
transcribed. The
recordings on sub
individual session, where
and were given time to re
I made a third
(s
219
during their discussions. An example of an annotated transcript is in Chapter Six. On
these recordings it is possible to hear their peers, from within the cohort, evaluating
the children’s ideas. The transcripts were made public to other resource teachers who
commented further on the new learning of the pupils. An example of this
triangulation process appears later in this section. First I explain what happened
during the course of the pupils’ discussions on ‘how we learn spellings’.
The value on which these changes in my practice were based was freedom in that I
portunities to take control of their own learning processes.
learning. They realised this themselves
when one said,
ve ways of learning. I am saying that my practice was a living example
f the realisation of my ontological values of respect, justice, empathy and service as
provided pupils with op
This freedom was grounded in my respect for human dignity and the capabilities of
the pupils.
Having listened to and questioned each other’s strategies for learning spellings the
children showed that they had developed new understandings of their learning when
they said,
We all learn differently.
(March 2003 Recording and transcript, original in Appendix 2.4b)
My facilitation of this process enabled them also to become self-study action
researchers in terms of improving their own
I find the best way for me.
(March 2003 Recording and transcript see Appendix 2.4b)
I provided a setting where pupils with specific learning disability (dyslexia) now had
the freedom to discover more about their learning processes and find their unique
most effecti
o
well as of my commitments to the idea of knowledge as personal yet created within
relationships. I am also explaining how I came to judge the quality of my research in
relation to the values that informed my research.
220
The next question that my research addressed was, ‘Can an awareness of learning
processes be developed and thus improve learning and recall of facts?’ I investigated
this over one school term for each cohort. Pupils spent one month evaluating each of
three new methods of learning spellings that they had not previously used and which
they heard from their peers during their discussions about the ‘how I learn spellings’
tapes of cycle 1. Suitable spellings were set and tested by pupils or resource teacher
or class teacher as appropriate. Each pupil recorded his/her spelling achievements on
a simple daily or weekly sheet similar to the one below.
Table 8.3: Pupil R’s spelling record
Word How I learned
it
When I
began
till
on
I can
spell it
on
I can s
spell it
I can still
spell it on
I used it in my
writing on
By the sounds
of the letters
Date Date Date Date Date
The pupils counted how many words they could recall correctly in each method they
chose. This action research process resulted in the children evaluating their
personally most successful way of learning spellings. I had helped the children in my
research to take control of their own learning processes.
The result of the children taking control of their own learning was that they came to
value the importance of personal knowledge (Polanyi, 1958), as demonstrated in the
quotations from the pupils and in the section of triangulated transcript that follows:
Table 8.4: Triangulated transcript on spellings
Transcript My comments Teaching colleagues’ comments
I learned spellings by
saying the letter names
real fast.
I tried R’s way.
S has changed his
method of learning
spellings. His writing
is more imaginative.
9 December 2004
Transcript brilliant.
Child S has devised his own
strategies for learning and for
attempting sums too. When give I use t
w
he sounds to
rite the words.
He is not just sticking
to words he is sure
n a
sum he can now explain different
I don’t have to say the
letters anymore.
The words tell me how
to spell them
that he can spell
automatically. He
makes good phonic
guesses at words but
he is not sure how to
spell.
ways of tackling it to his class.
Open discussions about learning
and his confidence in his own
learning have improved his maths
results from the 2nd percentile to the
88th over the past two years.
221
The comments from teaching colleagues provide evidence that the children extended
their new learning beyond the learning of spellings. This occurred because the value
an individual places on his/her own learning is crucial not only for motivation to
expand their learning further (Slavin 2003) but also to build self-esteem and selfperceptions
as an able learner. My research facilitated open discussions where my
children’s learning has been opened up to the critique of their peers and other
achers. These critiques were invaluable to help me make changes in my practice.
eichner (1999) and McNiff (2004)
s personal yet having the potential to be an educative and transformative influence
ves information
nd has the ability to monitor his or her memory activities in specific memory
te
Reflection on cycle two
To answer the question, ‘How do I learn spelling?’ children described orally a
process they carried out – a language skill requisite attainable by children in second
class (aged 7 years approximately) as stated in the Drumcondra Profiles (Shiel and
Murphy 2000). My research experiences taught me how to change my teaching by a
process of personal knowledge creation, which begins by providing the learner with
an opportunity for voice in his/her own learning. My view of personal knowledge
creation can be compared with Polanyi (1958), Z
a
on others as well as the power to transform myself. Polanyi (1958) explains the
significance of personal knowledge while Zeichner (1999) develops the idea that
research by teachers into their personal knowledge and practices can contribute to a
knowledge base for the teaching profession.
The question, ‘How do I learn spellings?’ which I put to children with specific
learning disability, can be seen as an investigation into the development of
metacognitive processes, which Flavell (1971 and 1977) explains as a process where
the person, task and strategies interact to influence memory performance. This idea
positions the person as a knowledge generator who stores and retrie
a
situations.
Current dominant practices in teaching spellings to children with specific learning
disability can be described as attempts to provide suitable learning tools. An
illustration of this is the research of Stirling (1989), which proposes the following
essential tools for adolescents with dyslexia; the ‘study of vowel sounds, doubling
222
the consonant following a short vowel, root words, and laws of probabilities’
(Stirling, 1989, p.268). Currently many of these tools are in use for younger children
in my school, both in learning support and resource settings. On the other hand
ripps (1988) links joined handwriting to the catching of spellings. By contrast the
ation’ (p. 89). But significantly she suggested that reduced
emory efficiency in dyslexia appeared to result from ‘verbal encoding difficulties
rbal IQ and learning to read and spell found by Atkins and Tierney
nd hopefully others) that individual pupils with specific
arning disability (dyslexia) can find their own individualised ways of learning.
C
much-recommended multisensory approach for the teaching of spellings employs all
the available senses in learning – hearing, saying, seeing and writing (Reid 1998).
However one can take issue with this approach on the grounds that children with
dyslexia have difficulty integrating auditory and visual memory skills (Atkins and
Tierney 2004). In summary, tools or fix-it strategies are promoted and have some
degree of success, yet the learning of spellings remains hugely problematic for those
with specific learning disability.
In relation to methods of learning spellings, the question remains whether those with
specific learning disability are different from their peers. In her comparative study of
children with and without dyslexia and aged between 8 and 10 years, Knee (1991)
found that ‘learning-disabled and normal children had the same rates of verbal
learning, forgetting, and memory development, and were equally able to utilize
semantic categoriz
m
rather than memory deficit per se’ (p. 90). This finding is supported by the links
between ve
(2004). Even when encoding was achieved, McNamara and Wong (2003) found that
students with specific learning disability did not use retrieval strategies effectively
and that some students with specific learning disability may have a production
deficiency that affected their retrieval of previously encoded information. My
research showed me (a
le
The work of Graham and Harris (2002) represents a shift from models of direct
teaching as described previously to active child-centred construction of learning.
They investigated a form of spelling instruction for poor spellers, which required the
learner to make memory links by following the instruction to ‘first access their
lexical memory for the target words’ (Graham and Harris 2002 p.102). Their model
can be clearly linked to Vygotskian theories of learning (Slavin 2003). When these
223
findings are placed with those of McNamara and Wong (2003) and Knee (1991), it
can be seen that a focus on both the individual learner and memory are not sufficient
for the learning of spellings by many children with specific learning disability
(dyslexia). The two actions in which I investigated spellings involved an awareness
f one’s processes of remembering – in other words, metacognition. I return to
it later in this chapter.
s were that if the children could not
learn hich my
children can learn (McDonagh 2002). The value I place on participants’ voice is
groun similar to
Freire erative
activi here one person did not act on another, but rather where
eople worked with each other, as I now explain.
poses, there is no
ne ‘right’ way of knowing and I have found that the acceptance of multiple ways of
know , which
grows cluding
none. In investigating t
disability, I have provided a practice-based emancipatory methodology of research
in which opportunities were made for children’s voices to be heard.
gained significant insights into the nature of teaching children with specific
learning difficulties by listening and allowing them to formulate ideas together. The
children voiced a theory of learning spellings and created personal knowledge
dialogically. They also demonstrated the value of metacognition in learning. As a
result of permitting my children to represent their personal learning orally, I as a
teacher ceased to perceive myself as the professional ‘knower’ in the classroom and
o
metacognition and my developing ideas about
My new learning from cycle two
I, their teacher, have learned from them that children with specific learning disability
learn in many different ways. The implication
in the ways in which I teach, I must learn to teach in the way in w
ded in the idea of emancipation through empowerment. This is
‘s idea, in Pedagogy of Hope (1994), that dialogue in teaching is a co-op
ty involving respect w
p
As a researcher and teacher I have come to believe that I cannot give participants a
voice but rather my work provides participants with opportunities for voice. Through
my search for an appropriate form of voice I have come to accept that there are
multiple ways of learning and knowing. As the Platonic view pro
o
ing can lead to dialogue. Such an acceptance also creates a freedom
from informed choice because it involves exploring many ways and ex
he learning experiences of children with specific learning
I
224
realis ), who
place f-study in
educa
The s idea of
knowing in action which Schön (1995), following Boyer (1990), terms the ‘new
schol search
o take issue with established education theory for teaching children with
ty
yslexia)
e to a new understanding of how some children with
ecific learning difficulties learn. Children with dyslexia can develop personal
istening to and
lking with my pupils.
ho had been disabled by a system of teaching spelling that was
appropriate for them and were now enabled to learn by their own efforts. I had
ffered them the right, within a relational form of pedagogy, to ‘become as singular
ed that I too was a learner. This follows the thinking of Zeichner (1999
s the teacher as a learner in his USA studies of the power of sel
tional research.
elf-study, practice-based research that I engaged with includes the
arship’ tradition. The new knowledge generated by the pupils in my re
enabled me t
specific learning disability (dyslexia) as evidenced in the work of, for example,
Hulme and Snowling (1997), Pollock and Waller (1997), Reid (1998) and Thomson
(2001). These authors based their thinking on a medical model of rectifying a deficit
in the children and offer various remediation and compensation techniques. In
contrast to this, my study led me to seek to identify learning abilities rather than
deficits in my children and to base my teaching on their abilities. In doing so I
reconceptualised knowledge about dyslexia. I shifted from a traditional
epistemological stance that positioned knowledge as reified, external and measurable
to a new understanding of knowledge as personally developmental and negotiated
through dialogue.
Impact on practice: Teaching spellings to children with specific learning disabili
(d
I found that children with specific learning disability (dyslexia) are aware of how
they learn. I claim to have com
sp
learning strategies. I arrived at this new knowledge of practice from l
ta
I teach in accordance with the ways in which children state that they learn. I have
afforded the children a freedom to come to understand their own abilities to learn
and to value talents that had been suppressed previously. I have offered them
freedom to grow in their identity as learners. They came to perceive themselves as
able humans w
in
o
225
as possible and to develop maximum creativity for themselves’ (Kristeva 2002 in
achers, from respondents following paper presentations and by my validation
group
idual and their
clarity how your data/evidence, in the form of artwork and recorded
r was is it as a result of your work
and something intuitive you did anyway?
Lechte and Margaroni 2004, p.162). I changed my teaching of children with specific
learning disability (dyslexia). By teaching in the ways in which children state that
they learn, I now teach to my children’s strengths as well as their needs.
Criteria by which my teaching can be judged
My new understandings of teaching were underpinned by values of human dignity,
wholeness and caring. The evidence of this comes from responses from class
te
of peer researchers. Here is an example:
Your theory acknowledges the uniqueness of the indiv
capacity for freedom of choice. You have demonstrated with great
conversations, can support this theory.
(27 November 2004 Correspondence from a validation group member,
see Appendix 2.5d)
My living theory of practice was founded on a belief that all individuals, given the
opportunity, can make important contributions to their own and others’
understanding of teaching and learning. This was demonstrated in my own capacity
to encourage children to become independent thinkers. This idea was both validated
and challenged by researchers in my validation group, who asked,
Were you aware of this unique capacity in yourself and was that what
enabled you to enable the children o
(4 November 2004 Transcript of validation meeting see Appendix
2.5g)
Another described my learning as follows,
226
As valuing the uniqueness of each individual child and their capacity –
that each child’s ability to learn is unique and their capacity to learn
and continue learning is unique. You are testing your findings about
your practice by focusing on your influence in the children’s learning.
In this you are using your values as standards by which you make
judgements on your findings. Initially you concentrated on the change
in the children but came to realise that you were also changing in your
relationships with these children.
er,
I claim ficance of my new learning extended beyond the teaching of
spelli ak in a
group onversations
in wh cular or
subje ading
is hard for me but I try my best anyway.’ As they continued to converse, the children
began to identify specific areas of personal difficulties such as, ‘It’s hard to
8.3 the pupils

he pupils and I have worked alongside each other on our action research projects
ving
ils’
ribe how this occurred, and follow my
descriptions with my reflections on our actions, my new learning and its influence on
my practice.
(21 November 2004 Correspondence from a validation group memb
see Appendix 2.5d)
that the signi
ngs, as is shown in the following episode. I invited my children to spe
setting about their learning in general. In taped and transcribed c
ich they initially identified their learning difficulties in terms of curri
ct areas, with sentences such as ‘Irish and Maths are hard for me’ or ‘Re
understand the meanings of the stories and to understand it’ or ‘Long words are hard
to remember and spell’ or ‘Writing is hard for me, I can’t write straight.’ In this way
children named priority personal learning/teaching targets, which is traditionally the
role of the learning support teacher (Ireland, Department of Education and Science,
2000) or resource teacher (Ireland, Department of Education and Science, 2002a).
In brief I have become aware of the significance of involving individuals in the
process of their own learning.
I engage in action research projects alongside
T
and now I want to say why and how our learning together was important. My li
theory of learning to teach for social justice was greatly influenced by my pup
learning and by my learning. I desc
227
~Acti
As a ctice. My
theori ir label
of sp ility (dyslexia). The form of theorising I chose was
spont pupils’
ning capabilities also appeared to be
fluenced by our encounters. The pupils’ new consciousness about how they
ing disability (dyslexia) changed our relationship in that
shown in two quotations taken from
y re
The f olleague,
d listened to the first cohort of pupils’ reports on their understanding of
dysle n of this chapter), said to the
pupil,
s teacher discussion,
Appendix 3.3, original in data archive Appendix 2.4d)
on-reflection cycle 3
researcher, I was dedicated to the process of theorising my pra
sing was grounded in my commitment to pupils’ capabilities despite the
ecific learning disab
aneous and live. Included in the thinking behind my belief in my
abilities was that I wanted to make a living and worthwhile difference in their lives. I
intended to show how my pupils would come to value what they know and how they
come to know it. I am reminded of Buber’s (1923/1962) description of an educator:
Only in his whole being, in all his spontaneity can the educator truly
affect the whole being of his pupil. It is not the educational intention
but it is the encounter which is educationally fruitful.
(Buber 1923/1962 in Miller and Nakagawa 2002, p.85)
My encounters with pupils changed our relationships. In practical terms this meant
that I, as the teacher, was no longer instructing them in learning strategies for
spellings because they had discovered their own effective and personalised
strategies. At another level we had reversed our roles and were learning with and
from one another as we worked alongside one another. As my research progressed
the pupils’ awareness of their own lear
in
understood specific learn
they became aware that I, their teacher, did not understand specific learning
disability (dyslexia) as well as they did. This is
m search transcripts in Appendix 3.3.
irst quotation is part of a transcript in Appendix 3.3 where a teaching c
who ha
xia (I will describe this report in the next sectio
We should make a handout so that parents and other teachers could
learn about dyslexia from you.
(March 2003 From transcript of pupil / clas
228
This teacher adopted a level of equality in his relationship, a sense of togetherness
with the pupils, in communicating information to others. Similarly the pupils
perceived themselves as individuals who could talk with teachers. The quotation
below demonstrates how pupils experienced changes in their relationship with
teachers:
Pupil S: I haven’t talked to teachers like that before. But I thought it
would be a good idea ’cos they would know what it was like to be
dyslexic and they would know what to do if they had a dyslexic person
in their class.
Pupil B: I’ve never had as much fun talking to a teacher. I thought that
when Mr. [Teacher S] and Mr. [Teacher M] left, that they had actually
learned something from the pupils not the other way round. They
walked out agreeing with us for once. I never had so much fun talking
to teachers.
(March 2003 From transcript of pupil/ class teacher discussion, original
in data archive Appendix 2.4d)

Both the pupils and the teachers, including me, gained new understandings of the
pil–teacher relationship from these encounters where the pupils demonstrated their
ness within encounters by telling about stroking a horse on his
randparents’ farm. There was a bond of mutuality between Buber and the horse as
the st e selfconsc
the horse
imme s:

o the other or to the world.
pu
conscious approaches to learning. According to Yoshida (1962), Buber described
changes in conscious
g
roking continued. Buber tells how he looked at his hand and becam
ious of his stroking movement. The relationship between himself and
diately changed in ways that Buber termed I–Thou and I–It, as he explain
This difference marked the two different kinds of relationships in
which a person relates t
(Buber 1923/1962 in Miller and Nakagawa 2002, p.128)
From an objective perspective the stroking of the horse remained the same yet
Buber’s understanding of the differing relationship was the seminal idea of his
major works on I–Thou relationships.
229
The primary word I–Thou can be spoken only with the whole being.
Concentration and fusion into the whole being can never take place
through my agency, nor can it ever take place without me. I become
through my relationship with the thou; as I become I say thou. A
living is encounter.
ll real
onship led me to understand the
ecessity for I–thou relationships in teaching and learning. At this point I return to
achers of pupils with dyslexia involved in Kerr’s
ochran-Smith and Lytle (1999) have spoken of how in the last decade of the
a
ith.and Lytle 1999, p.16)
and as
co-constructors of knowl .

In t p so greatly influenced
by ing. Now I want to draw on the work
f Wenger (1998) to explain how this occurred.
(Buber 1923/1962 in Miller and Nakagawa 2002, p.85)
My relationship, and possibly some of my teaching colleagues’ relationships, with
the pupils changed from I–It relationships and now exist as I–Thou relationships, in
that we engage in real, living, reciprocal, whole-being encounters. My acute
awareness of what was changing in our relati
n
the research of Kerr (2001). The te
(2001) study adopted an I–It relationship with the pupils they taught, whereas I
adopted an I–Thou relationship. From an objective perspective our roles remained
similar yet my conscious control of my own learning and understanding of specific
learning disability (dyslexia) from my pupils’ perspective enabled me to change my
learned helplessness into my living practical theories of social justice, teaching and
learning. My pupils and I became co-constructors of knowledge within the process
of developing their and my living theories.
Reflection on cycle three
C
twentieth century, teacher research constructs
the role of the teacher as a knower and agent in the classroom and in
l rger educational contexts
(Cochran-Sm
edge with their pupils
(Cochran-Smith.and Lytle 1999, p.22)
he revious pages I have explained why my theories were
my learning in tandem with my pupils’ learn
o
230
Wenger (1998) describes how communities of practice can become the social fabric
o work together, to share and critique their ideas within that
ommunity and to extend their ideas to the wider school community by presenting
h requires a
strong bond of communal competence along with a deep respect for the
particularities of experience. When these conditions are in place,
eloped during my research have been shown as
locus of knowledge creation. The form of knowledge we created was personal yet
ships. My confidence in our newly formed identities as
kno
from w s (1998) work offers an explanation of this
tran
of learning. I believe that Wenger’s ideas could describe the co-creation of
knowledge that occurred between my pupils and myself during the course of my
research. As I have explained at 8.2 above we learned alongside each other; we
learned with and from each other; we shared in a learning process. When the pupils
came together to discuss their understanding of dyslexia, each cohort became a
community eager t
c
their reports in which they explained their learning difficulties to teachers and pupils
throughout the school. Wenger (1998) describes similar interactions as a community
of practice. What I have described in my research is the development of a learning
community. Wenger speaks about the negotiation of meaning, the preservation and
creation of knowledge and the spreading of information (Wenger 1998, p.251). My
research has demonstrated the negotiation of understandings of specific learning
disability (dyslexia), the co-creation of new knowledge and the influencing of others
to create their new understandings.

Wenger (1998) offers his perspective on knowledge creation within communities of
practice as follows.
A well functioning community of practice is a good context to explore
radically new insights without becoming fools or stuck in some dead
end. A history of mutual engagement around a joint enterprise is an
ideal context for this kind of leading edge learning, whic
communities of practice are a privileged locus for the creation of
knowledge.
(Wenger 1998, p.214)
The communities of learning that dev
a
it existed within our relation
wers and knowledge creators encouraged the development of my living theories
ithin my practice. Wenger’
sformative effect of a learning community:
231
Because learning transforms who we are and what we can do it is an
experience of identity…. It is a
certain person or to avoid becom
process of becoming – to become a
ing a certain person. Even the learning
s
(Wenger 1998, p.215)
because the ‘community sustains change as part of
participation’ (Wenger 1998 p. 214).
ecific learning
isability (dyslexia), despite a school system that claims to cherish the individual.
that we do entirely by ourselves contributes to making us into a
pecific kind of person.
Both I and the pupils in my research experienced that transformative practice of
learning in a community. Our community of learners offered an ideal context for
developing new understandings
its identity of
My new learning from cycle three
My learning and my pupils’ learning became a tidal wave of influence on both our
thinking and practice within our contexts. In earlier chapters I have used the
metaphor of waves to explain the influences on my research context and on myself.
In Chapters One and Two, I explained the first wave of influence as the practice of
my Christian values and the dominance of injustice for pupils with sp
d
Two further waves of influence in my context – the theory-practice divide and the
successes or failures in my teaching of pupils with specific learning disability
(dyslexia) – were described in Chapters Three and Four.
The theories that I have generated in my research were influenced to some degree by
these four metaphorical waves but the major influence was the learning that occurred
for both myself and the pupils. I am claiming that our learning combined and that:
o Together we found our voice
o We addressed our learned helplessness
o We combated our marginalisation
o We questioned (i) dominant pedagogies and (ii) dominant learning
strategies
o We accepted a fluid reality seeking no finite answers
o We celebrated our capacities to learn.
Together we were a powerful force – a metaphorical tsunami.
232
Implications for teaching
In the previous parts of this chapter I have spoken about how awareness of my own
arning contributed to my pupils’ learning and to my own actions and theorising of
from pupils’ journals in which they
have given the children in my research freedom to investigate their processes of
itings on
xamples from others’ lives whereas I am writing about my own development and
o (2003) relates
Sen’s work to education, stating that ‘when dealing with children it is the freedom
they will have in the future rather than the present that should be considered’ (Salto
2003, p.25). I am challenging Salto’s application of Sen’s ideas in education in that I
am offering the children in my research immediate freedom to develop their
capabilities by learning in appropriate ways for them. These present changes could
also influence their future development and capacity.
learn for themselves is ignored
traditional ways of teaching those with specific learning disability (dyslexia). I
In my practice I found that
(a
(b) Metacognition can be an effective learning strategy for children with specific
learning disability.
le
my practice. In this section I provide data
recorded their daily achievement. By relating this data to my epistemological value
of the importance of personal knowledge in teaching, I show my new understanding
of metacognition.
I
remembering spellings. The practical methods to achieve this demonstrated that I
valued the development of the individual’s potential. I have shown in practical terms
that the changes in my practice during the course of my research had immediate
implications for the children’s learning experiences. So I have put into practice ideas
about development as freedom (Sen 1999). Although both Sen and I speak about
developing capability, our approaches are different in that Sen based his wr
e
how it can be seen in the developments in my pupils’ learning. Salt
I have shown that the learners’ capacity to think and
in
have changed my practice and provided opportunities for learners to become aware
of and value their ways of learning.
) Children with specific learning disability (dyslexia) can have successful
individual ways of learning.
233
(c) Metacognition can alleviate learned helplessness in teachers and children.
he practical relevance of this part of my research is that pupils have been given
become coconstructors
of knowledge’ (Cochran-Smith and Lytle 1999, p.16). I believe that
creati ey are
childr ialogical
m of knowledge creation to become valued knowers and thinkers.
haviourist
of fix-it strategies, but more recent research (Scardamalia 2004;
ms that new knowledge requires metacognition, as well as a
ons between group and individual, based on the premise that
as humans we enjoy playing with ideas, thus increasing our capacity for learning.
(d) Knowledge can be mediated.
(e) Learning from and with others can improve self-perception and change
public perceptions of what counts as educational knowledge.
T
opportunities for voice to enable them to identify their personal ways of learning and
evaluate their effectiveness.
I have learned to teach in ways that value the voices of children. Cochran-Smith and
Lytle (1999) describe how teachers can be ‘knowers and thinkers rather than
consumers of others’ knowledge and by sustained conversation
ng opportunities for voice for all research participants – even if th
en, who are labelled as disabled learners – enables them within a d
for
My research resonates with emergent theories of metacognition. In previous research
such as that of Wray (1994), metacognition has been considered from a be
perspective as a set
White 2004; and Xiaodong, Schartz and Hatano 2005) reconceptualises
metacognition as a habit-building phenomenon – an idea that is close to my
reconceptualisation of metacognition as both a personal and social strategy to
enhance learning. The research of Xiaodong et al. (2005) demonstrates that
observing other people being reflective can lead to more effective reflective
practices, which is similar to the processes of reflection and positive self-talk in
which I engaged and encouraged pupils to engage in. White (2004) supports similar
ideas of meta-socio-cognitive development in her research into how social modelling
and collaborative enquiry can foster these concepts in young learners. The social
engagement of my pupils when they conducted self-study action research projects
into how they learned spellings resonates with White’s (2004) approach.
Scardamalia (2004) clai
ratcheting up of interacti
234
Scardamalia’s explanations could also explain why the pupils in my research took to
and enjoyed the social-metacognitive activities.
Ideas about how my teaching can be judged
I am aware that I need to offer ideas about how the quality of my teaching can be
dged. I have developed a range of strategies about how this can be done. My first
strate n example
of how

I too critical way
about reness of
ions in previously taken-for granted teaching and learning situations.
fic
a) before and during the course of my research.
Sketc
r faces of pupils await the new ideas from books about
dyslexia and commercial programmes.
ju
gy is to check my self-perceptions about what is happening. Here is a
I have done that.
adopted a metacognitive stance in my work. Thinking in a selfmy
practice was a new form of thinking for me and brought an awa
new percept
The three rough sketches below from my reflective journal represent my
understanding of how learning was taking place as I taught pupils with speci
learning disability (dyslexi
h One Sketch Two Sketch Three
Figure 8.1: Sketches from my reflective journal
Sketch One depicts me standing in front of rows of pupils, where my teaching
involved knowledge transmission using a didactic teaching method. Under my
sketch I wrote,
In my class eage
(22 February 2002 Journal see Appendix 2.1b)
235
This first sketch shows how I considered learning happened when I taught
commended programmes for dyslexia such as Alpha to Omega (Hornsby, Shear
(22 February 2002 Journal, see Appendix 2.1b)
I have moved from closed epistemologies and
losed behaviourist-oriented practices to new open epistemologies and open-ended
practices.
re
and Pool 1999), the Multisensory Teaching System of Reading (Johnson, Phillips
and Peer 1999) (see Appendix 4 for details).
Sketch two (Figure 8.1) represents my perception of how learning was happening as
I taught the first cohort of eight children in the first year of my research. Learning
was happening differently here. It was active rather than passive, as in Sketch One. It
involved a degree of co-operation between the learners. Learning was happening cooperatively,
in small groups of two or three and individually, using strategies
appropriate to each subgroup in my class. I wrote beside Sketch Two,
I am the orchestra conductor. I bring all the individual and co-operative
learning together in harmony.
Beside sketch three (Figure 8.1), I wrote, ‘We learn from and with each other in
openness’ in my journal (Appendix 2.1b). Sketch three represents my understanding
that both the children and I were learning from and with one another.
The sketches show my developing understanding of my role in facilitating the
learning experience. My way of teaching, as depicted in that Sketch One, shows
that I am holding the ‘power’ and the learners are passive recipients; in Sketch
Two I am also controlling how learning is to take place and with whom because I
have grouped the pupils and decided the activities; in Sketch Three I show my
relinquishment of power in favour of the learner. I arrange our seating in a circle as
a move towards developing the kind of relationship within which both teacher and
learner could learn and teach together. Figure 8.1 indicates a shift from dominance
towards collaboration; from inequality towards equality and from passive learning to
active learning. I am explaining how
c
236
In my attempts to make judgements about the quality of my teaching, and also to
establish the validity of my research claims to have improved the quality of my
teaching, I began to present my research findings in public fora as paper
resentations. I received affirming responses in the following correspondence from
one c
r
spect
that in encouraging children (or anyone) to find their voice – oral or
spondence, see Appendix 2.5f)
I also following
extrac wrote,
your
)
s my work progressed and was subjected to rigorous validation processes, I
contin h 2003). I
expla hey had
no vo of the
role o
Grand applied’
(Gove theory as a
form of theory where there is harmonising of theory and practice because the
practitioners who are researching their practice develop living theory from within
their living practice.
My theorising of my practice can be judged against my epistemological values as
well as my ontological values, as I now explain. The personal new learning for me,
p
onference participant,
What is happening to you is that – I think – you are reframing you
own experience as a teacher in light of a new perspective … I su
written – you are in some deep sense validating them and their lives
and identity. This seems to me an aspect of the caring principle in
education.
(4 July 2003 Corre
received evidence of my changing thinking and teaching in the
ts from a validation meeting when a member of a validation group
You are challenging the dominant form of theory by showing that
theory of learning is grounded in practice, your own and your
children’s.
(14 November 2003 Correspondence see Appendix 2.5d
A
ued to make a case for participants’ voices in research (McDonag
ined consistently that a major block to my children’s learning was that t
ice in it. I explained how I had shifted from a traditional understanding
f theory in teaching and learning, where educational theories are depicted ‘as a
Central Station where theories are sifted, interpreted and
rnment of Ireland, Oideas 1992, p.97). I now understand living
237
gener actice and
under
For m that I have
learne ractice.
The p aith in the
uniqu have
recon respect,
caring ims to work within these
value ighlight the
significance of the living f of theory that I have developed. She offers
until he wrote up this journal. Twenty-four children’s journals of
chievement are in my data archive. The children’s diaries form a daily selfariety
of successful learning, which contrasts with their label
s having a ‘learning disability’ and the normative focus on difficulties those
teaching and
arning of pupils with specific learning disability (dyslexia), and this new
ated through my research, has led me to reconceptualise my pr
standing of what counts as educational knowledge.
e, the significance of my learning and my theorising of practice is
d to recognise, evaluate and live towards my educational values in p
rinciples that underpin my practice are my commitment to and f
e capability of the individual to learn and respect the other. I
ceptualised my practice as a form of service to the other, grounded in
/compassion and equality. Noddings (2003) also cla
s. However, her form of theorising differs from mine in ways that h
orm
explanations of how values inform others’ practices. In my research I am showing
how my embodied values emerged through my practice as well as how they became
the standards by which my research can be judged (Whitehead 2000, p.99 and
McNiff with Whitehead 2002, p.165).
I now want to give a practical example of these ideas. In Table 7.2, I gave an excerpt
from Pupil J’s learning journal in which he stated that he never knew how much he
had learned
a
affirming record of a v
a
children experience in schools (Ireland, Department of Education and Science
2005a). The pupils’ reflections on their own learning demonstrate an awareness of
personal learning and learning strategies (McDonagh 2004b). From this and other
similar research episodes, I realised why it was necessary to involve individuals in
their own learning in the first place. By taking an active part in their learning, pupils
could enhance their self-esteem and combat learned helplessness. I had come to a
new understanding of the importance of personal knowledge within the
le
knowledge influenced my practice.
238
My new learning from these episodes also had importance for other resource
teachers as seen in this answer to a questionnaire (Appendix 7.3), which I distributed
after a presentation of my work to a meeting of twenty-five resource teachers.
It is extremely relevant. It focuses on the pupil, on how he/she learns
and what strategies work best for him/her.
(December 2004 Correspondence from programme co-ordinator,
Dyslexia Association of Ireland Workshop, see Appendix 2.9)
I am claiming that I have found a way of teaching that can positively influence the
learning experience of my pupils. In support of this claim I produce the following
statements from professional colleagues.
Initially you concentrated on the change in the children but came to
realise that you were also changing in your relationships with these
children. You described how your work with children, who have
specific learning disabilities, has led you to question the dominant
understanding of the concept of disability. You, instead, have chosen to
premise your work on an understanding that all children learn in
individual ways and your approach focuses on the abilities of the
children rather than on disability.
(24 November 2004 Correspondence from validation group memb
Appendix 2.5d)
er
an impressive critical
ment, along with the
close monitoring of your practice over a period of years, has led you to
form new theories of teaching and learning that are grounded in your
aim to improve your practice, and thereby the educational experience
for your students.
(24 November 2004 Correspondence from Critical Friend B, see
Appendix 2.5c)
Yours is a theory drawn directly from your practice as a learning
support teacher and you clearly demonstrated a critical engagement
with the issues and concepts involved as well as
engagement with education theories. This engage
239
I believe that not only have you achieved your aim to improve your
also. I bel e
educationa g you
learned that, given a supportive and caring classroom environment,
theory against existing theory and found that yours was more
listic understanding of learning that was based on
ld’s needs and experience. You showed how
your values of respect, justice and fairness have acted as the standards
.4 Summary
his chapter has explained how my learning and my children’s learning have
arning.
practice, but that you have gone beyond it and theorised your practice
ieve, too, that you have generated new and sustainabl
l theory from within your practice. As you went alon
children have an unlimited capacity for developing strategies and
methods of learning that are unique to themselves. You then tested this
representative of a ho
the reality of each chi
by which you make judgements about your practice.
(4 November 2004 Correspondence from class teacher/ researcher
Appendix 2.5a)

These extracts show how my values could be understood as my standards of
judgement and were living in my practice. In the last extract, for example, the
teacher claims that my values of ‘respect, justice and fairness’ have acted as
standards by which I made judgements about my practice. I have provided a
‘supportive and caring classroom environment’ where children have freedom to
develop strategies and methods of learning. In keeping with my values of human
dignity, freedom and wholeness, I have allowed them opportunities to develop their
uniqueness.
8
T
influenced changes in my teaching. I provided children with specific learning
disability (dyslexia) with opportunities to demonstrate that they had successful
individual ways of learning. I explained how my new ways of teaching helped young
people to see themselves not as consumers or objects within the school system but
rather to gain confidence around their own capacities to learn. I have demonstrated
my developing understanding of children’s different ways of le
The changes in my practice are rooted in my commitment to social justice and are
grounded in my own capacities to generate theory from my practice. My actions,
during my research, are a manifestation of my learning.
240
I have investigated various forms of teaching. I have found that effective teaching
for those with specific learning disability (dyslexia) can encourage personal,
procedural and dialogical learning. These ideas and practice have grown from my
study of the relationships between individuals and their creation of knowledge, in
that, together with the pupils in my research, I have come to understand, apply and
extend the processes, skills, attitudes and knowledge by which the pupils in my
research improved their learning capacity (Pollard 1997 and McNiff 2002)
My new ways of teaching challenge the three models of disability that I discussed in
Section Two. Medical models of disability highlight deficits and then teach to rectify
them, whereas I have identified abilities in pupils’ learning and I worked with the
children to use their singular abilities. I have challenged the educational model of
disability within which the person is potentially disabled by interactions with
institutions, structures and the environment, and replaced this with educational
enabling within a learning environment where metacognition and personal
knowledge are combined with socially created knowledge. I have challenged the
psycho-social model of disability by returning freedom of choice of learning styles
to the learners. I have re-established the power of the learner in the classroom
within the learning process. I include myself as one of those learners.
Improving teaching and learning rests on the knowledge creating capacity of each
individual in the system (Delong 2002). I believe that there is a need for teachers to
frame their practice as living theory as I have done.
241
PART FIVE: ENSURING THAT THE CONCLUSIONS I HAVE COME TO
ARE REASONABLY FAIR AND ACCURATE
Chapter Nine: A discussion of my new learning – Testing my living theories
ndings about the
ethodology of self-study action research from my experiences of disseminating my
l they think?’ ‘I’m nervous.’ ‘They will love your piece
bout George Washington’s difficulties in school.’ ‘I think that they will really love
9.1 Introduction
In this chapter I explain how I carried out systematic validation processes to test the
validity of my claims to knowledge. I use an example of how I tested my living
theory of learning to teach for social justice. I explain how my validation process
involved getting critical feedback at all points of my research, in relation to whether
I can claim with justification that I am living out the Christian values as I stated them
earlier in this thesis. This requires ensuring first that I have solicited feedback from
all relevant participants in my research. I speak about how this feedback is related to
the Christian values, which are the same as the ontological values on which my
research is based. I complete this chapter with a description and analysis of another
new learning for me in relation to significant new understa
m
research.
9.2 My systematic validation process
I begin with a practical example of my validation process. In Chapter Five there are
five pictures (Pictures 7.7 to 7.11) of my pupils presenting their reports on
‘Explaining dyslexia to myself and others’ to members of our school community.
The video from which these stills were taken was part of the feedback about their
self-study action research projects into how they learned spellings and about their
new understandings of specific learning disability (dyslexia).
Before the presentation we gathered in my classroom. Anxious whispers from my
pupils reflected their concerns. Concerns about the reactions of the pupils in the
mainstream class: ‘What wil
a
242
the bits about the famous people. I did.’ ‘Will they be surprised at how many ways
we know to learn spellings?’ When we returned to my classroom after the
presentation there was a flurry of excitement as the pupils described the mainstream
pupils’ reactions to the report. ‘They said that they didn’t know there were so many
ays to learn spellings.’ ‘A, B, and C (names) said that they wanted to try a different
dn’t know how hard it was for us to learn too.’ ‘They never knew there were
articulated how these data showed my commitment to justice. Then, using
e lite e, I explained how the form of my actions demonstrated my belief in
eedback at all points within my research process.
ching colleagues, critical friends,
source teachers from other schools; tutors, programme co-ordinators and workshop
directors with the Dyslexia Association of Ireland; doctoral and university
w
way of learning spellings now.’ ‘They never knew till we told them.’ ‘They said that
they di
famous people who weren’t good at school.’ My pupils claimed that they had
‘explained dyslexia to themselves and others.’ Their presentation, together with the
questioning and class discussion that followed it, provided feedback on their claim to
have gained a new, personal understanding of dyslexia.
In Chapter One I articulated the standards of judgement by which I would judge the
quality of my research. Now I want to summarise the validation processes I used to
test the validity of my research claims. For example, in Chapter Seven, I presented
data and
th ratur
self-efficacy and in the capacity of the individual. Accordingly, the process of
judging my claims to new knowledge required first the articulation of my values and
a report of their existence at a conceptual level in my new practices. In addition my
new practices were explained in relation to my values. The most critical standards
were that my thesis demonstrated my values in action as part of my living and
reconceptualised practice. So what did this look like in reality? My validation
processes required getting critical f
~Getting critical feedback at all points of my research
In Chapter Seven I included correspondence from a critical friend that provided
evidence that my values were being lived out in my practice as both a teacher and
researcher. This was part of how I tested my new understandings against the critical
responses of others. There have been examples in the last two chapters of the many
people from whom I received critical feedback. These included my participating
pupils, the pupils’ peers in mainstream classes, tea
re
243
colleagues and those from the academy who attended educational conferences at
which I spoke about my research. The importance of this variety of validation
ese people were reasonably familiar with various aspects of my
developed its own momentum. That was why I found
iangulation such a vital process of comparing my perceptions with the perceptions
iff and Whitehead 2005, p.67). For example, I have already told how
ve
and teachers in
mainstream classes and from resource teachers, the Dyslexia Association of Ireland
rksh
sources was that people from both inside and outside my research were critiquing
my work. All th
context.
I had to be somewhat opportunistic in finding ways of getting feedback. My
methodology was not tidy or linear so I cannot describe it as a series of
developmental stages, or even as a narrative with a beginning, middle and end. Each
data-gathering episode
tr
of others (McN
I ha placed my comments on my pupils’ work alongside comments from an art
therapist and resource teacher in order to compare our views (see Tables 5.2 and
8.4). The experience of placing my new learning before academic colleagues at
conferences was harrowing but interactive forms of presentation were most
informative. I was overjoyed that teaching colleagues confirmed my research
findings during my pupils’ presentation of their projects to them.
Their validation and my data are in my data archive, which I have listed in
Appendix 2. This archive includes my reflective journals and my pupils’ journals;
my correspondence with my supervisor and critical friends; validation
correspondence and audio tape-recordings from pupils, teaching colleagues, two
critical friends, members of my validation group, and audience members at
conference presentations; questionnaire responses from pupils
Wo op Programme Co-ordinators and Directors. In keeping with my theme of
finding appropriate forms in which to facilitate participants’ voices, my archive also
includes tape and video recordings and photographs, pupils’ reports and artwork.
Data from my practice of teaching includes pupil profiles, individual pupil
educational plans, and pupils’ record sheets of their learning from commercial
programmes, and lesson plans for lessons that were observed by other teachers (see
appendices 5.2a and 5.2b).
244
Another critical feature in my validation process was that I required not just evidence
from others that I had changed my understanding and my practice, but I also wanted
vidence that these changes had been critiqued against my values. There are further
ngs for children with specific learning disability
yslexia). In the course of our conversations and action research projects, I afforded
partic earn – to
value edom and
capab learning that
follow ed these
value
In order to justify my claim that I am living out the values that I am expressing
I now e values
live i out my
understanding of our changing relationship during the course of my research. This
e
examples in the remainder of this thesis of how this occurred in my research.

~Justifying that I am living out the values articulated at the beginning of this
thesis
I am talking about how my claims could be related to my values. For example, in the
previous chapter, I told how dialogue provided a way of coming to new
understandings about teaching spelli
(d
ipating pupils a freedom to come to understand their own abilities to l
talents that had been unrecognised previously. The values of fre
ility were embedded in my research actions and in the new
ed. The pupils and I were learning together and our actions embodi
s.

throughout, I want to explain how I understand our learning together as the
embodiment of the values of freedom, equality, empathy and respect for the
capability of the individual. In practical terms I have shown in the two previous
chapters that my pupils and I have addressed our marginalisation and learned
helplessness by finding our voices, and within our fluid relationships we have
celebrated our capacities to learn.
want to show that our learning constitutes values-in-action, and thes
n and are the justification of my research claims. I speak first ab
includes the idea that the pupils became co-constructors of knowledge. Next I want
to explore the relationship between this learning relationship and my core research
values and in particular to issues of development as freedom (Sen 1999) and the
concept of development as freedom in education.
245
I am claiming throughout that I can show the relationship between my pupils’
learning and my own learning. Specifically,
1) I have helped the children who participated in my research to come to know in
their own ways.
2) I have found ways to help children come to value what they know and how they
know
3) I h
pupils can participate, as well as teachers. In this way I have arranged the conditions
of learning for my students in terms of
their own knowledge.
) I have helped the children to come to know in their own ways. This was
their own knowledge. I have demonstrated how I have come to
nderstand, apply and extend the processes, skills, attitudes and knowledge by which
it.
ave reconceptualised curriculum as a knowledge generating exercise in which
offering them fuller participation in creating
To elaborate:
1
achieved when the pupils and I acted within a relationship of reciprocity. Our
learning was interdependent; I gained new insights from pupils’ ways of learning
and I modified my ways of teaching; the participating pupils gained new insights
within my new ways of teaching and modified their ways of learning which in turn
informed my thinking. We acted and learned in a reciprocal relationship. I found that
effective learning for those with specific learning disability (dyslexia) included
personal, procedural and dialogical learning. These ideas and practices developed as
individuals created
u
the pupils in my research improved their learning capacity (Pollard 1997 and McNiff
2002). Throughout this entire process I was attempting to live towards my values of
empathy, compassion, equality and freedom as set out in Table 5.1.
2) I have found ways to help children come to value what they know and how
they know it. Together with the pupils I have developed new understandings of
specific learning disability (dyslexia) that identify pupils’ capabilities in learning. I
have explained in Chapters Seven and Eight how I have worked with these pupils to
use their singular abilities. I have combined the educational enabling of these pupils
within a learning environment where metacognition and personal knowledge were
united with the social creation of knowledge. I found ways to help children and
246
myself come to value what we know and how we know it. We have re-established
reedom, human dignity and social justice are the central values on which I base
eir individual needs (see Chapter
ight). To explain why it was necessary to provide freedoms of this type in order to
(Sen 1999, p.xii)
(Sen 1999, p.18)
my pupils and myself
nd how I interrogated it. My research set up a counter cycle of confirming
capabilities that led to the development of personal confidence and competence,
the power of the learner within the learning process.
F
these claims. I have removed many obstacles that hindered my pupils’ learning. I
have recognised and facilitated the freedom of individuals with specific learning
disability (dyslexia) to learn in ways that suit th
E
allow the developments of the pupils’ learning and my learning, I have referred to
the work of Sen (1999), who says,
It is important to give simultaneous recognition to the centrality of
individual freedom and to the force of social influences on the extent
and reach of individual freedom. To counter the difficulties that we
face, we have to see individual freedom as a social commitment.
Development consists of the removal of various types of unfreedoms
that leave people with little choice and little opportunity of exercising
their reasoned agency.
I have allowed pupils opportunities for freedom of action in bringing their new
understandings of dyslexia to other pupils and teachers in the school. I have
established pedagogical practices that permit the pupils to decide how they will learn
spellings. I have changed my teaching so that pupils can expand their capabilities
and value their abilities, as they recorded in their learning diaries. In facilitating my
pupils’ actions, my work is commensurate with the ideas of Sen (1999) that
the expansion of the ‘capabilities’ of persons to lead the kinds of lives
they value – and have reason to value.
I am claiming to have moved from a situation where marginalisation led to learned
helplessness and when learned helplessness was tackled in a traditional approach, as
explained, for example, in Kerr (2001), which led to further marginalisation. In
Chapter Seven I explained how this situation applied to both
a
247
which in turn led to a willingness to contribute to others’ knowledge (see Chapter
Eight). Sen (1999) tells of similar negative cycles where ‘economic unfreedom can
breed social unfreedom, just as social or political unfreedom can also foster
economic unfreedom’ (p.8). He tells, but does not demonstrate as I have done, how
this cycle can be broken in a two-way relation between
1) social arrangements to expand individual freedoms and
2) the use of individual freedom not only to improve the respective
lives but also to make the social arrangements more appropriate and
effective.
(Sen 1999, p.31)
y research links issues of freedom, human dignity and social justice, which were
) ideas of justice as fairness and
eveloped a practical living theory of learning to teach for social justice, which has
M
included in the third aim of my research.
3) I have reconceptualised curriculum as a knowledge generating exercise in
which pupils can participate, as well as teachers. The pupils and I actively
participated in addressing justice and epistemological issues by finding ways to
exercise our voices in a system which was dominated by propositional knowledge. I
have explained how I invited pupils to participate in creating their own knowledge. I
was conceptualising social justice as the freedom to contribute. In practical terms
this meant pupils taking responsibility for their learning according to their personal
ways of learning.
My research was based on ideas of emancipation through the acquisition of
knowledge (Freire 1994). I built on Rawls’s (1971
d
some similarities with Young (2000), where my practice was shown to exhibit the
values on which I base my understanding of justice. Young (2000) speaks of ‘being
able to engage in the world and grow’ (p.184). Young’s work describes selfdevelopment
within communities. My work offers a similar perspective and speaks
of social justice where the individual is afforded opportunities to develop the
confidence and freedom to contribute to social justice for himself or herself as well
as others. The values that can be used to justify my claim are those of service to
others in the interests of the greater good.
248

the potential to develop new forms of discourses in professional
ducation, by conceptualising practice as theory.
and freedom. In
is way freedom and development are dialectically and practically linked and as
y pupils to improve
dings of how learning occurs in relationship with others.
f age,
tellectual capacity, or ability to read, into a living practice.
9.3 The importance of our new ways of learning to issues of development
as freedom in education
My research aimed to establish socially just practices. I am now claiming that my
research has
e
First I need to articulate my understanding of freedom as a condition for making a
contribution to practice discourses. For this I draw on the work of Sen (1999). I
speak about not only academic or economic development, but also about ideas of the
relationships between individual development, social development
th
such form an important context for my study of how I helped m
their learning experiences. In justifying what I have done I am asking whether I have
lived towards my values of freedom, compassion, human dignity and service.
What I believe has happened in my research is that first, pupils have contributed to
my learning as a teacher and second, I have contributed to their learning. For
example, the dialogues and actions that arose from my questioning of my practice as
outlined in Chapter Seven show that I was actively engaging with ideas around
equality, freedom and respect for the wholeness and capability of both the individual
learner and myself. I have shifted the locus of power in learning to the individual in
order to create a new reality of learning where my children were not devalued
because of their learning differences. I claim that the pupils and I are creating our
new understan
I have learned during my research programme that the policy rhetoric of inclusion,
which values individuals with specific learning disability (dyslexia), can be realised
through my practice. This practical realisation has been a transformation of my
ontological belief in the capacity of all humans to learn, regardless o
in
249
Sen (1999) writes of the quality of life being assessed by our capacity to exercise our
freedom. I have shown in my research that the quality of my pupils’ education and
my pedagogy can be assessed by the degree of our freedoms to learn in ways that
value the development of the individual. In Chapter Seven I have demonstrated how
I have facilitated the freedom for pupils to voice their preferred ways of learning,
and this has contributed to pupils’ development in terms of self-esteem and
identities. Similarly in Chapter Eight I have demonstrated how I have facilitated the
freedom for pupils to evaluate their own work and to learn in their chosen learning
styles. I claim that these freedoms in turn have contributed to pupils’ academic
hievement in learning spellings.
able the pupils with specific learning
ons from the pupils themselves and their teachers support my claim that I
In order to develop a capab eacher, I have engaged in
dialogue wit turn has led to self-development. The
this claim is that both my pupils and I have addressed our learned
ac
Sen (1999) speaks of development as the everyday realisation of the lived capacities
of humans. However, his form of theorising is propositional. His theory of
development as freedom is about what people are able to be and do – a celebration of
the uniqueness of individuals. His theory goes beyond a distributive theory of justice
and justice as fairness (Rawls, 1971) and also beyond Griffiths’s (1998) theory of
justice as practice because these theories are limited by using a propositional form of
logic and by focusing on resources rather than on individuals’ capacities. My theory
of developing capacity is a living form of theory, through which I can offer
explanations for what I have done, while incorporating Sen’s propositional ideas. I
can show how I have endeavoured to en
disability (dyslexia) to transform their capacities for thinking and learning.
Quotati
have achieved this (see Chapters Seven and Eight).
ility approach for me as a t
h pupils and that dialogue in
evidence for
helplessness and found ourselves as capable knowers and learners. I now understand
myself as a practitioner who is capable of improving and theorising her practice. I
have developed a relational process of teacher agency, which has not only developed
my own thinking and practice but also developed how I can influence others,
specifically the pupils participating in my research, to act for themselves. My
approach has been informed by the thinking of Young (2000) whose ideas about
250
inclusive forms of justice include the proposition that personal individuality can be
achieved through a positive interaction between individuals and their society. Young
envisions a democratic world order, where knowledge is developed with others. I am
offering my living theories about an inclusive approach to knowledge generation,
which unites personal knowledge, and metacognition, and socially developed
knowledge.
I have demonstrated that educational research can be grounded in a form of
knowledge that values learning and the development of the person. Furthermore I
exia). I did so within a context and background that was largely
rounded in propositional knowledge and placed little value on personal knowledge.
I hav eported
resear ores personal
know s. I am
claim ng theory
ounded in my values of respect for humans and their
have developed a new living theory of practice, which is my explanation for how
I have come to improve what I am doing for the benefit of myself and the children
believe this is a necessary condition for educational research because, as I came to
understand, social facts cannot be isolated from the domain of ontological values and
these values in turn inform the epistemological stance one adopts.
~Conceptual issues around developing theory from practice
I have explained how I developed a living theory of teaching and learning that is
inclusive of others’ views and ways of learning. I have also explained how I have
developed my own living theory of learning to teach for social justice, in which my
teaching celebrated the potential learning of the children with specific learning
disability (dysl
g
e explained that the philosophical and values base of much of the r
ch in the field of specific learning disability (dyslexia) ign
ledge and the human perspectives of both the learners and the teacher
ing to have transcended the tensions in this by offering a form of livi
and logic, which is gr
capabilities.
My initial research aim was to enable pupils to move towards achieving their
potential. My research has enabled me to modify my practice in terms of how I can
develop new forms of pedagogy that will enable the children to be in control of their
own learning and to shape their identities as capable and competent learners.
I
251
in my care. Throughout my research there have been two strands: my learning and
my pupils’ learning. My learning is reflected in my pupils’ learning. For me, selfstudy
action research has influenced changes in my own thinking about educational
knowledge and how it is created, in that I have become actively critical. I gave an
xample of this in Chapter Eight when I explained how my ways of teaching had
aching for knowledge creation.
ganisational processes to do with teaching
processes of inating my research, as I will now explain.
Further key learnings from the dissemination of my research
ore traditional forms of oral paper presentations tend to use a
e
changed from propositional to dialogical forms of te
Apart from thinking critically about my teaching, I have actively demonstrated how I
created it in the ways that I helped children develop new knowledge about their own
learning.
I developed a practice in which the children I taught also became self-study action
researchers investigating their concerns, as in the learning of spellings, as
documented in Chapter Eight. In addition they researched their cognitive ability for
learning in their learning journals (See Chapter Eight and Appendix 2). I am
claiming that my ways were more enabling and more just than traditional forms of
research into specific learning disability (dyslexia), as explained in the background
to my research (Part Two). The insights that I have gained have been at personal and
substantive levels, including ideas about or
and learning. In addition to this I have gained further important insights from the
dissem

9.4
I presented my research in the three formats below at educational conferences:
o Traditional forms of paper presentation
o Collaborative research presentations and
o Interactive symposia.
I have found that m
propositional form of logic (Dunleavy 2003). By contrast, an interactive
symposium can often imply sharing research with colleagues, students,
communities and broader publics. It ‘usually requires opening up the research to
discussion and critique on many levels so that the work may continue to develop’
(Berry 2004). Such interactions reinforced the findings of my classroom research
252
that personal knowledge can be created through dialogue and have transformative
potential. My experience and understandings of making my research public in
interactive symposia at educational conferences has led me to a new understanding
of my research within the context of educational networks of communication for a
new scholarship of educational enquiry through practitioner research (Whitehead
2004a and McNiff 2004).

Traditional forms of paper presentations: Reflection-in-learning / reflection-inaction
In M . These
reflec lings in
that which mirrors Schön’s (1995) idea of
‘refle ic format
ithin a group session of papers followed by some clarification questions from the
ink the theories to your practice?’ That question was significant for me
fficient to develop teacher expertise. Theoretical reflection in
turn produces qualitatively different insights about teaching and
learning, which can provide teachers with conceptual tools to establish
n
Winkle ed
as an e
theories
level. sstandar
aided the
development o y
ways of thinkin
cDonagh (2002) I presented my research reflections on how I teach
tions resonated with the pupils’ reflections on how they learned spel
both were reflection-in-learning,
ction-in action’. I presented my 2002 paper in a traditional didact
w
audience. One question, later, over coffee, remains with me today. It was, ‘How did
you come to l
in that it held a key to my new epistemology – one that positioned personal
knowledge as relational. Winkler argues for the linking of reflection and theory
when he says,
Teachers’ experiences – and practical knowledge derived from it – are
not su
ew links between what they know and what they do.
(Winkler 2001, p.438)
r has adopted a common perspective that theoretical reflection can be view
xercise in matching one’s practice to pre-existing propositional educational
. The question about how I theorised my practice moved my work to a new
By testing my data against epistemological and ontological values-a
ds, I provided evidence of theorising in my practice. The question
f new (for me) knowledge about my practice and also challen
g and presenting my learning.
ged m
253
I have adopted
research includ
ighlights the usefulness of community enquiry to aid and critique one’s reflections
n my
ta archive (see Appendix 2.4e). During this collaborative presentation my coo
enable the audience to critique our work
e asked the following two questions:
own that we have contributed to improved educational
practices?
n had contributed to the development and validation of our own
ving theories but had not contributed to their dissemination. So I now consider the
in Action Research Seminar (2003) at the
niversity of Limerick, I presented a paper (McDonagh 2003) that included pupils’
twork and their voices as they explained their experiences of dyslexia. Papers at
a metacognitive position; the generation of new knowledge in my
ed dialogue with my own thinking. This critical questioning also
h
– a feature that tends not to be present in traditional forms of paper presentations.
Collaborative presentations: How I think and learn
When I presented audiotapes and videos of my research practices at the 2003
Collaborative Action Research Association Annual Meeting, researchers in the
discussion that followed identified unhesitatingly and unequivocally that teaching
colleagues in my workplace had learned from my pupils’ theories of how the pupils
learned (McDonagh and Sullivan, 2003). A video tape of these discussions is i
da
presenting colleague and I discussed and found similar conceptual and philosophical
frameworks within our different and individual fields of research. Our collaborative
discussions in drawing up the paper gave us an opportunity to explore our educative
influences on each other and in our individual contexts. During these discussions we
also created new knowledge together. T
w
Has our presentation sh
How can our work contribute to educational theorising?
The audience responded that we had improved educational practices. They did not
attempt the second question. We concluded that our collaboration in developing this
paper presentatio
li
potential significance of interactive symposia for the dissemination of self-study
action research.
Interactive symposia: new understandings about research epistemology
I begin with an account of an interactive research symposium at which I presented
my work. At the Critical Debates
U
ar
254
that conference addressed specific critical and current issues in action research such
s issues of validity, forms of theory, location, voice, legitimation, ICT and
institutional implications. The interaction following the formal presentation of the
papers took the form of an open forum on each topic. Discussion circles included
presenters, invited key speakers and participants. The discussions initiated here were
continued through email. The following quotations demonstrate the transformational
fluence of presenting practitioner research in a dialogical format because, as a
niversity lecturer said,
The combination of the children’s voices and your reflections on their
learning opened the doors of your classroom and pushed out the walls
– a way for other educators like myself to be in your classroom and
learn from the lived experience.
(22 June 2003 Correspondence see Appendix 2.5f)
~An epistemology where personal learning occurs through reciprocal
interactions
I found a form of knowledge generation in which the researcher takes responsibility
for his/her own learning within group settings. This concept is similar to Wray’s
(1994) and Slavin’s (2003) strategy of individual responsibility within group
learning. I took part (McDonagh 2004a) in an interactive symposium, which
provided an example of this. The discussant wrote about this process of presentation
as follows:
Self-study does not end with the production of a written report or artefact –
these are but one part of the process of self-study. Self-study work compels
those that are working within it to share what they do with their colleagues,
their students, their communities and broader public domains and to open
up the work or discussion and critique so that the work may continue to
develop. This group is taking their work forward in exactly those ways, and
I applaud them for taking the notion of accountability seriously. This is a
necessary act, and at the same time, a courageous act because in laying out
your work to us there is considerable risk involved, you make yourselves
vulnerable in the process. It is much easier to speak about the need for
vulnerability than to actually engage in it, in the ways you have.
(Berry 2004)
(To note: the group, referred to above, brought together nine
individuals’ presentations of self-study action research and spanned
all sectors of education from teaching to teacher education and
policy making across many continents. Each participant had
multiple links of influence to the others in the group that added to
a
in
u
255
their web of learning togetherness. Their papers were web-accessed
o I argue for the interactive symposium as a new form of generating knowledge in
concluded this chapter by explaining how I developed my living theory from
and participants’ ontological commitments and practices were
discussed by all present during the interactive presentation format.)
S
research – as an important feature within self-study action research. I do so because I
believe it encompasses all the key processes for metacognition and social
metacognition as I described them earlier. I am committed to it since metacognition
is about understanding and developing one’s own learning. In addition, the use of
metacognitive processes in research places a value on the uniqueness of the research
within a new scholarship of educational enquiry (Whitehead 1989) and further
positions the interactive symposium within a new epistemology (Schön 1995).

Some of the implications of my dissemination of my work can be understood as the
centrality of people and their social interactions in the generation of living
educational theory, and living theory as grounded in people’s capacity to theorise
their individual and collective work as a form of social renewal. Both these elements
are interrelated and mutually influential.
9.5 Summary
I have considered the importance of my learning and my pupils’ learning to issues of
development as freedom and have explained my ideas on freedom in education as
contribution. I drew on Sen’s (1999) ideas about freedom as development and I
show how this provided a framework for my attempts to build pupils’ capabilities
and confidence.
I
within my practice and generated important new insights from how I disseminated
my theory to a wider audience. In the next section of this thesis I consider the
potential educative influence of my research. I now move into a discussion of wider
professional debates and possible directions in which my research has potential to
influence future practice and research.

256
257
PART SIX: THE BROADER SIGNIFICANCE OF MY STUDY –
ACTICE IN THE LIGHT OF MY NEW LEARNING
e four major themes that have developed from my new learning. These
emes are: first, I developed a critique of my own stance in relation to my
was a practice that celebrated human
quality. This has implications for current systems of schooling, where children are
cal values.
ional needs (dyslexia). I indicate
me of the potential implications of my work, in terms of how other people such as
ue to
arn.
thers to repeat. I am suggesting that others consider if there is anything in my
MODIFYING MY PR
In answering the question, ‘How do I modify my practice in the light of my new
learning?’(Whitehead 1989), I am talking about more than changes in classroom
strategies. I am considering the potential implications of my research for others in
relation to th
th
pedagogy, as well as in relation to dominant practices of teaching children with
specific learning disability (dyslexia). Second, I showed that the children and I could
co-create knowledge. I understood myself as in relation with them, and they with
me. I developed a dialogue of equals, which
e
regularly categorised and labelled. Third, I have grounded my relationships of
equality in my ontological and Christian values. I have linked the idea of the value of
the person with the idea that people must be free to realise and exercise their value.
Fourth, I have come to understand that personal and social practices are informed
and underpinned by specific ontological and epistemologi
There are two chapters in this final section. In Chapter Ten I explain how my
research has potential implications for other colleagues’ learning, and for new
practices for teaching children with special educat
so
professional colleagues have learned from me, and what people may contin
le
In Chapter Eleven I tell how my research has possible implications for other fields of
practice. This includes the potential relevance of my research to areas of disability,
disadvantage, education policy and provision. I also explain how I am contributing
to new forms of theory and how my thesis may add to the existing body of
knowledge. In addition I am addressing the idea of why people should listen to what
I have learned in my research. I am not offering my work at a prescriptive level for
o
258
living theory that is of value for their own contexts or that they can improve and
build on.
I conclude with a metaphor to explain the fluid, uncertain, yet fulfilling processes I
xperienced while generating my living theory of practice about how I learned to
teach
e
primary school pupils with specific learning disability (dyslexia).
259
CHAPTER TEN: The potential significance of my study
10.1 Introduction
In th tions for
teach how the
insigh nd as a
resear
s a person I have realised the importance of articulating and explaining my
Final of social
forma r teaching
childr
The potential implications of my research for teaching colleagues
colleagues have learned from my research.
is chapter I want to show how my research has potential implica
ing colleagues. I then explain this process of influence in relation to
ts from my research had significance for me, as a person, a teacher, a
cher.
A
ontological and epistemological commitments as they relate to my teaching. As a
teacher I have developed ways of teaching that I claim have relevance for providing
socially just forms of teaching and learning.
As I researcher I explain the importance of theorising practice in (1) my
reconceptualisation of metacognition; (2) my ideas on reflection in action; and (3)
my approach to practice as a form of living theory. I show how the ability to critique
one’s own pedagogical stance has significance for teacher professional development
for the teaching of pupils with special educational needs.
ly I examine the potential importance of my work for the education
tions (Whitehead and McNiff 2006) and for new practices fo
en with special educational needs (dyslexia).
10.2
During the processes of my research two core issues have had significance for
teaching colleagues: first is the power of the individual to be an influence for
educative change; and second, I have shown that knowledge can be mediated
between teachers and learners by providing opportunities for the learner’s voice to
be heard. Here are some examples where teaching colleagues have written about
their experiences of these processes and which I can claim as evidence that
260
Evidence of the educative influence of being open to the voices of pupils with
specific learning disability (dyslexia) exists in the following letter, which came from
teaching colleague following a presentation by Pupil J’s report explaining his
er’ presentation in our own classroom not only for me but also for
his 28 classmates. A few days later he sat in front of his class and I
watched as he grew in stature before my eyes and those of his
quiet way what he had
t of pupils presenting their reports on ‘Explaining dyslexia to myself
d others’ in a mainstream classroom. The mainstream class appear to be engrossed
a
learning disability.
Just a note to acknowledge your report on dyslexia. I apologise for
rushing off midway through the presentation a couple of weeks ago. I
can say however that in the 15 minutes I spent listening to (pupil) J and
his fellow presenters, I learned more about dyslexia than I had ever
known before – shame on me! I promised J the opportunity of a
‘prop
classmates as he explained to them in his own
discovered and learned. He had a rapt audience throughout and fielded
questions from his classmates with confidence.
(12 March 2002 Correspondence from teaching colleague, original in
data archive Appendix 2.5a)
The significance and the power of the learner’s voice for educational change can be
seen in another teacher’s answers to the questions, ‘What did you learn about
dyslexia? What other questions do you have?’ (Appendix 7.2) following a
presentation of pupils’ reports on their understanding of specific learning disability
(dyslexia). The teacher stated that he had gained new personal knowledge that may
influence his practice when he wrote,

I learned a lot about dyslexia. There were certain things I hadn’t
realised. I think I would do things maybe differently with dyslexic
children in the class.
(2 March 2002 Correspondence from teaching colleague, original in
data archive Appendix 2.5a)
I found that the new knowledge which resulted from the presentation of pupils’
reports influenced school structures in terms of teacher understandings of and
approaches to specific learning disabilities. Pictures 7.7 to 7.11 in Chapter Seven
show a cohor
an
in listening to and questioning the report presenters. The mainstream class pupils and
teachers who were present responded in writing to the questions, ‘What did you
261
learn about dyslexia? What other questions do you have?’ (Appendix 7.2b). The
Principal read their questions aloud. At the end of the session he responded as
follows:

I see these people here, presenting their projects [reports] and telling
very publicly how they feel about having learning difficulties. I feel
very proud of them. I feel that they have other skills, which maybe I
haven’t got. I think they have great courage to be able to do what they
are doing.
(Transcribed from video, original in data archive April 2003 Appendix 2.4f).
This and many other transcripts of conversations from my classroom are examples
f the potential to position a resource classroom in a ‘primary school as the
e programmes:
All courses, course content and other experiences should be designed
ance for teaching colleagues have
o
foundation stone in the development of that learning society’ (20 January 2002 my
correspondence to critical friend, original in data archive Appendix 2.5b). I believe
that my research offers a form of professional development and a possible preservice
approach, which would be in keeping with the Government working group
policy document on preparing teachers for the 21st Century (Government of Ireland
2002). My research involved a reflective and caring commitment to theorising my
professional practice; the government document recommends a similar approach to
pre-servic
with the objective of preparing teachers who are competent, caring,
committed, reflective and have a keen sense of their professional
responsibilities.
(Ireland, Department of Education and Science 2002, p.155)
My claims that my research had signific
implications for dominant theories on specific learning disabilities (dyslexia) that
work from a propositional perspective (Hornsby 1995; and Snowling 2000). I have
demonstrated the benefits of insider research and this has grown from the new
epistemology of practice that I developed during my research. The idea of creating a
new epistemology for a new scholarship of educational enquiry that is of particular
relevance to teachers has been developed by Whitehead (2000), based on Schön’s
262
(1995) idea of a new scholarship. I offer new understandings of knowledge that
arose during my research as having the potential to influence how teachers teach.
to my own learning is that I have
as for a logical, mathematical intelligence and
arning approach (Gardner 1997). I have written about the difficulty I had adapting
to oth ints out
that m preferred
learni (1991) also found that those pupils who presented with
the m her’s own
ersonality type and consequent teaching style. In this research I did not, however,
l, interpersonal and intrapersonal,
nd naturalist (Gardner 1993). I identified and engaged with pupils’ individual ideas
ge with them (see
rning styles and strategies. I changed my ways of teaching to accommodate
their learning approaches. My choice of research methodology and the form of
theory ed that by
engag ore socially
just p

second, further significance of my research in relation to my own learning about
theory was that I came to understand the ontological base for my epistemological
The significance of my research in relation
changed myself. My research has had a major influence on my own learning in terms
of practical, theoretical and personal knowledge. I discuss each form of knowledge
in the following section. In doing so I first describe and explain my epistemological
stance and then show how it has enabled me to generate a new epistemology of
practice.
~How my new insights have significance for me
I attribute the changes that occurred in my practice first to how I have learned to
theorise my practices and how to disseminate my new knowledge. Prior to my
research my personal preference w
le
er teaching and learning styles (McDonagh 2000). Stubbings (1997) po
any teachers have difficulty teaching in ways that are not within their
ng style. Jung and Hull
ost difficult behaviours in class were the shadow of the teac
p
follow the route of adapting to group learning styles such as linguistic, logicalmathematical,
spatial, bodily-kinaesthetic, musica
a
and ways of thinking in creating new and accessible knowled
Chapter Eight). I learned to change my practice of teaching by providing
opportunities for pupils with specific learning disability (dyslexia) to identify their
own lea
I engaged with facilitated the changes in my practice. I learn
ing with open-ended forms of theorising I was able to develop a m
ractice.
A
263
stance. I identified and articulated my own view of knowledge and knowledg
creation by sta
e
rting with practice and generating theory from within the practice. I
arned the importance of personal knowledge in my ways of teaching. This does not
mean personal
know s about theory
ignor ified in
claiming here is important because I
t came from trying to improve
y practice includes an understanding of how I have contributed to theories of social
of reflection in
ction; (3) my understanding of developing theory from within practice.

(1) M
I expl sation of metacognition. This was part
of wh y own
wareness of what I am doing. I have recreated my identity as a teacher, a researcher
le
that I am ignoring other forms of knowledge; I am reclaiming
ledge within my context where I found that dominant discourse
ed it. I realised that knowledge was fluid and dynamic and seldom re
relation to teaching and learning. What I am
have integrated my ontological, spiritual and ethical values within practice-based
knowledge. In doing so I have improved my own professional learning as well as
developed new ways of enabling learning for pupils with specific learning disability
(dyslexia). This is part of my original contribution to knowledge.
The personal, professional and political learning tha
m
justice by developing new approaches to the learning of those with specific learning
disability (dyslexia). The significance of my research is also grounded in the
argument that by engaging in forms of social action I have come to clarify and
deepen my understanding of the complexities of my practice. I have contributed to a
rigorous social knowledge base, which has the potential to inform and develop
practice.
During the course of my research three key insights emerged. These insights were
(1) my reconceptualisation of metacognition; (2) my understanding
a
y reconceptualisation of metacognition
ained in Chapter Eight my reconceptuali
at drove the changes in my practices and theorising through raising m
a
and a theorist through my critical reflexivity. I have asserted agency for myself in
that I have challenged conditions of injustice in my context. In my choice of research
methods I have acted with imagination, which was necessary to counter the
conditions in my context. The conditions were both constraining and unjust. I have
264
opened up a plurality of ways of knowing by recognising that each pupil and I have
our own individual ways of learning and coming to know.
(2) My understanding of reflection in action
I have arrived at an important new learning for me by reflecting in action. My
methodology makes specific use of the metaphor of a mirror for reflection (see
Part Three). In developing an understanding of my own and my pupils’ identity I use
ages of mirroring. Mirroring and reflection were integral to my process of testing
e found a form of theorising that recognises the plurality of the human
(Walker 2005, p.103)
im
ideas within my self-study action research methodology. By reflecting my actions
against the values base of my research, I can justify the form of action research I
chose. I hav
condition and in particular the pluralistic forms of the relationships within teaching
and learning. Walker (2005) offers a description and explanation of this concept,
which resonates with my research:
Through our speech and actions we reveal who we are, we ‘appear’ to
each other, we ‘present’ to each other fulfilling what Arendt (1958)
calls the human condition of plurality so that we learn and that we
learn from each other.
Through reflection I have also come to an understanding of learning difference and
the plurality of learning processes and strategies.
(3) My understanding of developing theory from within practice.
The theorising of practice is sometimes seen as a new skill in educational contexts
where teachers’ craft knowledge has been undervalued and under-researched (Day
2005).
In the current educational climate of change, with its emphasis on
teachers’ continuous professional development, there is much to be
gained from studying the craft knowledge of teaching, particularly
from the perspective of the teacher.
(Day 2005, p.21)
265
I believe that I have achieved what Day (2005) speaks of from the perspective of
am claiming to have demonstrated not only that I have articulated craft-knowledge
hitehead 1989) where my
ractice denied my values, to experiencing my practice as celebrating the joy of
that celebration of the gifts that I have
em is the knowingness that there is
hope for all and a way by which every child can be reached. This way
(Apple 1997, p.307)
ound that developing living educational theory has been a fulfilling process
an observer:
Privileged enough to observe successful teachers recognise their craftknowledge
at work even though they often struggle to define it
coherently.
(Day 2005, p.1)
I
but also to have developed new knowledge about learning and justice for pupils with
specific learning disability (dyslexia) and those who teach them. My research has
shown how I am contributing to a new epistemology for a new scholarship (Schön
1995) by encouraging new ways of learning for myself and other teachers, which
could contribute to their professional development.
Before explaining the potential significance of my research for others I want to make
a final comment on the personal significance of my work. The importance of
developing my living theory within a self-study action research methodology to me
as a teacher, a researcher and as a person was that I experienced the transformative
shift from experiencing myself as a living contradiction (W
p
change. The writing of this thesis is part of
received from learning with and from my pupils with specific learning disability
(dyslexia). Apple (1997) has articulated my sense of joy as follows:
The gift that I have received from th
is very simple. It is honouring the abilities that the child has and the
space that the child is in at the moment.

I have f
for me as a teacher, researcher and as a person. I have shown ways of improving
professional learning and moving towards a more socially just form of teaching for
pupils with specific learning disability (dyslexia). I have found that change in my
266
research is not gained through conventional ‘authority based consciousness but by
cultivating imagination and creativity within each student’ (Apple 1997, p.308) and
within myself. By articulating my sense of moral and ethical judgements, personal
thoughts and societal concerns, I have changed and grown. I have established a
supportive educational environment where my vision (see Table 3.2) became my
reality and that of my pupils. Our experiences can spread hope to others who have
learned to be helpless.
~Teacher professional development as grounded in the ability to critique one’s
own pedagogical stance when teaching pupils with specific learning disability
(dyslexia)
In producing this thesis as an account of my practice I am not offering it as a model
I aim to help other practitioners to consider
veloped relationships that reinforced and
onfirmed me in my new ideas about knowledge creation and theorising. Within this
of professional development. Instead
how they might examine their practice not only in the areas of supporting those with
specific learning disability (dyslexia) but also in all areas of their work. This thesis is
not a ‘what to do’ book. It as an account of what I did and why I did it. I present it as
an invitation to others to reflect on their own practice and consider the benefits of
theorising it, as I have experienced.
I want to identify the significant elements in my research that contributed to its
success from my perspective as a teacher. I began my research from a position of
learned helplessness in the teaching of pupils with specific learning disability
(dyslexia). The community of learning that I developed with pupils in my school
offered opportunities for the development of metacognition and social learning. I, as
well as the pupils, raised my own levels of metacognition and social learning. Our
interactions reinforced and confirmed me in my new thinking and new actions. In a
similar way, the community of learning established within the university by my peer
group of doctoral researchers (who became my validation group) and a college
professor who acted as our supervisor de
c
approach I gained the freedom and confidence to grow into my own voice in
educational settings. I also gained sufficient confidence, when confirmed in my own
ideas in these settings, so that I could contribute to more socially just forms of
teaching and learning.
267
Often when teachers are asked to theorise their practice, they ‘are tempted to
reproduce the kinds of abstracted principles of theories that they feel are expected of
them’ (Van Manen 1995, p.47). In this way teachers often attempt to articulate in a
conceptual manner active understandings of their work. This does not always
produce useful practical theory because it frequently ignores the passions and
intentions of teacher craft.
During my research I have critiqued my own stance in relation to my own
terms of a whole-school approach, currently there is a gap in whole-school policy
otential to influence how future policy could be informed.
y living theory has contributed to professional development and provision by
pedagogies. I have also critiqued my stance in relation to dominant teaching
strategies for those with specific learning disability (dyslexia). This critique is of
current importance for the professional development of teachers of pupils with
specific learning disability (dyslexia) because it addresses the core issues informing
the new model of provision outlined in Circular Special Education 02/05 (Ireland,
Department of Education and Science 2005a). These issues, as I listed them at the
beginning of this section, included (1) a whole-school approach and (2) providing
appropriate learning for these pupils (Government of Ireland 1998; Day 2003;
Ireland, Department of Education and Science 2005a). The idea of inclusion is
implied in this dual focus and is also stated in the circular.
(1) A whole-school approach
In
for specific learning disability (dyslexia) (Day 2003). Tansey and Ní Dhomhnaill
(2002) found in their study of the perceptions and practices of primary school
teachers with regard to dyslexia that,
the majority of respondents worked in school that did not have a whole
school policy on dyslexia though most (94.2%) perceived a need for
one.
(Tansey and Ní Dhomhnaill 2002, p.17)
My research offers the p
M
offering individual and group interventions in a manner that best suited the abilities
of pupils. My approach included supports that ensured that the pupils’ needs were
268
met not only throughout the school day but could be sustained outside school and
into the pupils’ future lives. My contribution was informed by and is in line with the
spirit of recent government decisions such as the Education of People with Special
ducation Needs Act (Government of Ireland 2004a); Equal Status Act
(Gove 5); and
Circu 2/2005 (Ireland, Department of Education and Science
2005a well as
ut-of-class teaching support as Circular 02/2005 (Ireland, Department of Education
a solid theoretical base in
plementing change in education.
gs in which my living theory was developed provided
pportunities for personal reflection on learning by both teachers and learners
on 02/05 (Ireland, Department of Education and Science 2005a) aims
ensure that additional teaching resources are allocated differentially to pupils in
accor ways of
conce ways to
involv slexia).
My n accordance with
pupils ld help
fulfil r Special Education 02/05 (Ireland, Department of
ducation and Science 2005a). There are however two significant differences
iduality or similarity of pupils. I
E
rnment of Ireland 2004b); Disability Act (Government of Ireland 200
lar Special Education 0
). My research methodology demonstrated ways to allow for in-class as
o
and Science 2005a) suggests. The changes in practice that occurred as I developed
my living theory demonstrated the importance of
im
(2) Providing appropriate teaching
The individual and group settin
o
(Chapter Eight); and for communities of learners (my pupils and I) to develop
learning abilities and to create new knowledge together (Chapter Nine). These
practices could inform how best to deploy teaching resources in the future. Circular
Special Educati
to
dance with their levels of need. My research offers different
ptualising learning and differentiation of learning. It provides new
e teachers in the learning of pupils with specific learning disability (dy
ew pedagogies offer a differentiated approach to learning in
’ capabilities rather than their needs. In practical terms my research cou
the rationale of Circula
E
between my approach and that of the circular. The circular focused on pupils’ needs
whereas I focus on individuals’ abilities.
My research methods also allowed for the grouping of pupils with similar needs as
appropriate in accordance with the rationale of the circular. Each cohort of pupils
spanned an age range, whereas extra support provision previously happened on a
class-by-class basis regardless of the indiv
269
developed inclusive settings for pupils with specific learning disability (dyslexia); I
eland, Department of Education and Science 2005a), and it has
een enacted in my research.
teachers’ perspectives and of how teachers have courageously exposed and then
have transformed the contexts of marginalisation that existed prior to my research.
An aspect of marginalisation was that the delays in psychological testing contributed
to the difficulties of ensuring that additional teaching resources were provided in a
timely manner. I have shown how it is possible to lessen the need for psychological
testing because I do not recognise the ideas of deficit testing where pupils are tested
to find gaps or deficits in their learning. Instead I have focused on a capability model
by celebrating pupils’ abilities.
I believe that my appreciation of the need for practical justice in teaching has already
had an educative influence on the educational experiences of those with specific
learning disability (dyslexia) who participated in my research. I have also
demonstrated how other teachers have been influenced by my work. I have evaluated
my own practice and devised differentiated approaches so that learning is
appropriate for my pupils with specific learning disability (dyslexia). My actions
have contributed to a whole-school approach to providing appropriate learning for
these pupils. A whole-school approach to providing appropriate learning for my
pupils with specific learning disability (dyslexia) is part of the rhetoric of the
Education Act (Government of Ireland 1998), Day (2003) and the Special Education
Circular 02/05 (Ir
b
The methodology of my research offers a comprehensive approach to the evaluation
and change of teacher practice within the community of the school. This approach
begins with the question, ‘How do I improve my work?’ (Whitehead 1989). It
continues with a commitment to change informed by a checking of the ontological
and epistemological positioning of the practitioner against his or her actions. It is a
living and relevant way to theorise practice so that it may inform future practice and
see how practice may inform policy and provision. It is a form of professional
development that is grounded in the lived experiences of the teacher and is therefore
of immediate relevance.
My work resonates with Zeichner (1999), who speaks of self-study research from
270
confronted the shortcomings in their work and identified the gaps between the
rhetoric and the reality of their practice. He praises the self-study genre of research
hen he states,
isition from the dialogues and the
arning relationships of individuals as they sought to understand their individual
he knowledgeonstituted
relationships described above and ideas about the education of social
w
The self-study genre of research in teacher education is the one clear
example of where research has had an important influence on practice
in teachers’ education
(Zeichner 1999, p.12)
10.3 The potential implications of my research for new practices in teaching
children with special educational needs (dyslexia).
In this section I want to speak about the potential implications of my work, in terms
of how other people such as professional colleagues have learned from me, and what
people may continue to learn.
I gained new insights about knowledge acqu
le
processes of coming to know. This can be seen in the following quotations from a
critical friend.

You seem to wish to move in the direction of knowledge as a form of
personal enlightenment that can be developed through a process of
action and reflection, and refined through dialogical practices. I really
like the idea that knowledge is created dialogically, that as people talk
and critique, their knowledge develops, and this knowledge is
embodied within their relationships.
(5 April 2004 Correspondence from Critical Friend A, original in data
archive Appendix 2.5c)
That correspondence gives an accurate conceptualisation of what she observed in my
practice. I have come to realise that there are links between t
c
formations (Whitehead 2004a; Whitehead and McNiff 2006). Whitehead explains
‘the education of social formations’ as helping groups everywhere to ‘understand
how they can work together in a way that will help them to improve their social
contexts’ (Whitehead and McNiff 2006, p.44).
271
I will now explain my understanding of the processes of the education of social
formations in an example from my specific context. The example I choose is a case
conference to develop an individual learning plan for a pupil with specific learning
disability (dyslexia). At such a meeting teachers, educational psychologists and the
pupil with his or her parents might come together with the common aim of
improving the learning of the pupil. Although this group has a common aim to
understand how they can work together in a way that will help them to improve the
arning of the pupil, each person within the group is already part of a social
contrast to this I have found during my research an approach that did contribute to
of those with
ecific learning disability (dyslexia). I believe my work has potential significance
r them in that by accessing my account, others may consider my approach and
nderstand how it can influence their approaches. This belief is grounded in my new
le
formation that is linked to their different roles and understandings of specific
learning disability (dyslexia). Educational psychologists, who work with pupils with
dyslexia at primary school level, aim to diagnose and identify patterns in specific
learning difficulty (dyslexia) and explain them within the rules of their profession.
Pupils aim to find ways to cope within the rules of the education system. The aims of
teachers are to identify learning opportunities and to teach appropriately within
current policies and provision. The individual aims of each group member can leave
us less open to the possibilities of working as a group with the common aim of the
pupil’s learning. This can lead to debates at case conferences where our individual
previous perspectives can take precedence over the aims of the new social formation
around the table.
In
the education of social formations. This process began when I deconstructed my
understanding of theories of learning for pupils with specific learning disability
(dyslexia) and offered a living practical theory of justice in learning and a
reconceptualisation of metacognition. These understandings contributed to my
development of a new epistemology of practice. I have disseminated my account of
how I arrived at this concept so that it can be accessed by groups – such as teachers,
researchers, academics, policy makers, psychologists, neurologists and members of
the medical profession – who come together to improve the lot
sp
fo
u
272
understanding of knowledge and knowledge creation and new forms of participatory
orking.
acher consultant’s role in developing and
002); the integration of issues of power
the contexts
these researchers differ widely – from school inspector to school of midwifery –
g disability (dyslexia) and who wish to
learn how to act in ways that recognise others as able to think for themselves. I want
to show how the new learning that I have claimed throughout can inform new
practices that can influence sustainable forms of social growth and educational
knowledge. I am linking the ideas of the education of social formations and the
dissemination of research. When I discussed how I presented my research in three
different public fora, my explanations have potential significance for others who
wish to adopt a self-study action research approach to their practice.
The new knowledge that I am claiming evolved from within my practice. My
understandings developed from critical reflections on my learning and my pupils’
developing understandings around specific learning disability. Pupils who
participated in my research produced reports, documenting their personal
w
I also perceive links between my account, which explains my theorising of my
practice, and my capacity to influence the education of social formations. Similar
links have been made by McNiff (2006) and McNiff and Whitehead (2006).
Examples of accounts that demonstrate the same capacity are O’Callaghan (1997),
Abbey (2002), Delong and Knill-Griesser (2003), Rivers (2003) and Deery and
Hughes (2004). Their accounts include descriptions of new forms of participatory
working (O’Callaghan 1997); a te
facilitating interdisciplinary studies (Abbey 2
and ethics in valid explanations of educative influence (Delong and Knill-Griesser
2003); inclusive support for an autistic student (Rivers 2003); engagement with the
politics of institutional knowledge (Deery and Hughes 2004). Although
of
they resonate with many issues in my research.

The significance of my research in relation to the education of social formations is
that I have placed my account of new learning in the public domain to test the
validity and legitimacy of my claims that I have influenced my learning, the learning
of others in my workplace and wider groupings. By wider groupings I mean those
who work with pupils with specific learnin
273
understandings of the af ey learned in different
ays (see Chapter Eight and Chapter Nine). This new knowledge was not part of the
culum for these children (Ireland, Department of Education
nd Science 1999b) nor had it appeared in any previous research known to me. I
capabilities of the individual. Dialogue towards
mpowerment as spoken of by Freire (1994) is shown to be relational in my research
y research has challenged my own self-perceptions of teacher power, and I have
earch episodes and analyses above have led me to understand
the transformative nature of knowledge and that it is personal yet exists in reciprocal
rela n m
explaining its theoretical importance. In future, I wish further to explore its
significance in the dissemination of self-study action research reports.
fective domain of dyslexia and how th
w
normal, national curri
a
claim that the children’s personal embodied understandings became explicit in the
process of making them public within a reciprocal learning activity with peers. This
course of action also provided evidence that I was valuing the individual capabilities
of my research participants.
By working together, in a spirit of openness, to make our personal understandings of
learning for those with specific learning disability (dyslexia) explicit, the pupils
participating in my research and I have confirmed each other as valuable individuals
and also confirmed our capabilities within our relationships. The research episode of
developing and presenting reports on pupils’ personal understanding of specific
learning disability (dyslexia) was grounded in values of openness and fairness and of
love and respect for the
e
processes. My research account has challenged conventional discourses about
dyslexia that are rooted in the values of dominance and control (Chapter 3). I have
also challenged how children have been devalued by being prevented from
participating in their own process of learning and knowledge creation (Chapter 7).
M
learned the power of encouraging the children to see themselves as powerful in
creating knowledge (McDonagh 2003). I have helped pupils to come to know in
their own way. The res
tio ships. I claim this new understanding and its practical significance, and I a
274
10.4 Summary
One of the more significant aspects of my research is that I have created a living
theory of what I know and how I have come to know. Within this metacognitive
approach I have developed a new epistemology of practice. I have also demonstrated
how the development of new epistemologies can influence the way that particular
groupings live and work together, and what kinds of discourses they can use to
negotiate how they do this. Consequently, I suggest that my research has made a
contribution towards the creation of a new social order that is grounded in the
recognition and valuing of the other.
I make this claim because I believe that teaching colleagues, the participating pupils
and I have been influenced to make changes. I am not claiming that I caused these
changes but that I have influenced myself and others to make changes.

The living theory of learning to teach for social justice that I developed emerged in
response to our needs and my wish to improve my practice. Together we have
offered a form of educational research grounded in values of equality, freedom,
caring and respect for the individual with specific learning disability (dyslexia). The
importance of my research is that it has influenced both practice and theory in my
context to move towards a more socially just form of teaching and learning for those
with specific learning disability (dyslexia).
275
CHAPTER ELEVEN: Reflections
11.1 Introduction
aps between my
spoused values and my practice prior to my research. I became aware that my
I validated my claims; and (3) on the
gnificance of my claims.
To des the
waves ( s
of influ
underst an
influen
I begin d
will my ng
to new
1.
2.
I have titled this chapter ‘reflection’ because it is a look back on my research. I had
set out to challenge injustice, as I perceived it, in the teaching of children with
specific learning disability (dyslexia) and it was some time into my research before I
realised the necessity for a deep inner focus on myself in my practice. This was
because, as Hartog (2004) also found, what I had to learn lay in the g
e
practice was value-laden and I experienced myself as a living contradiction
(Whitehead and McNiff 2006, p.32). My emergent awareness of my values (as I
explained in Chapter Six) contributed to transforming my ontological commitments
into an epistemological stance, which had a three-pronged influence: (1) on my new
learning; (2) on the methodology by which
si
cribe my experience of this transformation, I return to the metaphor of
Coehlo, 1992 and 1997). The metaphor positioned me as buffeted by wave
ence and as part of a tidal wave of learning. I have now gained a new
anding that I am not neutral in this fluid, water metaphor. I too have had
ce on others, on practices and on the social world.
the chapter by asking myself, ‘Am I contributing to new forms of theory an
thesis add to the existing body of knowledge?’ I check if I am contributi
knowledge by
Evaluating what I have achieved in terms of the ontological and
epistemological stance I adopted
Questioning what is the relevance of my research to other fields of practice
3. Scrutinising the living relevance of my key commitments to issues of
freedom and respect for the capabilities of the individuals in my research
276
I addre
First I
teachin
epistem ents. I then consider teachers and pupils as co-creators of
kno e
of pup
educati
epistem
This gr
signific
disadva
chapter
knowle
how th
relation
because I was developing a dialogue of equals, which is a just practice in terms of
hum
the per
I relate
My liv
specific learning disability (dyslexia) al
educational policy and provision be
support
practical and theoretical
with specif
approp
and Day 2003) is now necessary because
from th
increased general alloc
teachers now bear responsibility for pupils
(dyslexia). So I a
ss my questions at three levels and I use these levels to frame this chapter.
consider the theoretical challenge of personal and social practices in
g, which are informed and underpinned by specific ontological and
ological commitm
wl dge – a concept that I believe has not previously been researched in the field
ils with specific learning disability. The two major claims to new living
onal theory that I have made in this thesis are grounded in my ontological and
ological values, in particular my respect for the capabilities of the individual.
ounding of my new living theory of social justice has the potential to be of
ance for other marginalised areas in education – for areas of disability and
ntage – and for educational policy and provision. In the second part in this
I tease out the potential implications of teacher and pupils co-creating
dge for schooling where children are categorised and labelled. I have shown
e pupils and I have co-created knowledge. I came to understand myself as in
with them, and they with me. This demonstrated a form of just practice
an dignity. Finally I reflect on the importance of linking the idea of the value of
son with the idea that people must be free to realise and exercise their values.
this concept to the area of disadvantage in schools.
ing theory of learning to teach for social justice in relation to pupils with
so has potential relevance for future
cause new legislation has been enacted which
s many of the values on which my research is based. My research offers both
insights for providers of appropriate provision for pupils
ic learning disability (dyslexia). A whole-school approach to providing
riate teaching for these pupils (Government of Ireland Education Act 1998
resource teaching has been withdrawn
em (Ireland, Department of Education and Science 2005a). Under the
ation of support staff to schools in circular 02/05, class
with specific learning disability
m suggesting that my research is both useful and timely.
277
11.2
existin
I am cl y because my research has
add s
are info
I have c
led to f
categor
I have
justice
ways
epistem
my rese
• ted empathy for how and why others learn as they do. By
I am contributing to new forms of theory and my thesis will add to the
g body of knowledge
aiming to be contributing to a new form of theor
res ed the theoretical challenge where personal and social practices of teaching
rmed and underpinned by specific ontological and epistemological practices.
ritiqued dominant forms of theory and practice on the grounds that they have
urther marginalisation and domination of those who are already oppressed; a
y into which I have, at times, placed my pupils and myself.
shown the development of my living theory of learning to teach for social
throughout this thesis and I invite the reader to judge if I have done so in
that demonstrate the realisation of my underpinning ontological and
ological values. I list these values below and have summarised how some of
arch actions can be related to them.
• I have developed freedom for pupils to explain and demonstrate their
abilities to learn and freedom for me to develop theory from within my
practice. I have produced evidence of this in pupils’ presentations of their
reports, such as ‘Explaining dyslexia to ourselves and others’, to peers and
teachers; and in the changing roles for pupils and teachers. Examples of
freedom in learning were Pupil B’s comment, ‘I’ve never had so much
fun’, talking to teachers about his understanding of specific learning
disability (a fuller transcript of this conversation is in Chapter Seven) and
the teacher’s written comment in the previous chapter where he wrote ‘I
learned more about dyslexia than I had ever known before – shame on me!’
following a pupil’s presentation in his class. Throughout my research I was
theorising my practice, and the examples above show my practice as
generating new knowledge within the real-life teaching and learning
relationships of reciprocity and freedom.
I have demonstra
sharing research methods such as reflective journaling and doing action
research projects alongside each other my pupils and I showed empathy
towards each other. The pupils articulated their new awareness of others
278
when they said, ‘We all have different ways of learning.’ Their empathy led
to a growth ‘in stature’ and ‘peer respect’ (teacher letter quoted in Chapter
Seven). Throughout these processes the importance of personal knowledge
was highlighted.
Justice was evident in the ways in which the new knowledge, gained during
my research, was disseminated throughout my school. I would describe this
as a form of educative influence. The pictures, in the previous chapter,
from the

video of pupils sharing their reports ‘Explaining dyslexia to
ourselves and others’ with classes, trainee-teacher, class and support
teacher ent of
knowle w changes
can co nce, rather than restrictive
curricu ged others to
engage in more socially just forms of teaching. These examples are of a
• I have encouraged equality in exploring the nature of relationships between
ons
pupils
ed in Chapter Seven, demonstrated an
atmosphere of equality. These reflective discussions were a core research
both
dialogical and personal. They brought an equality to the pupil teacher
stioning is written into the text of this thesis in
thought bubbles. It is in the reflective journals I have kept and referenced.
s and school principal is an example of the developm
dge through dialogue. My facilitation of this shows ho
me about through educative influe
la or timed targets. My educative influence encoura
practical justice where all contributed to developing new knowledge in a
non-coercive way.
people which foster knowledge creation within the kinds of relationships
that avoid dominance or oppression. The reflective group discussi
between research participants – the pupils and myself; between the
who participated in my research and other pupils in the school; between
pupils and class teachers as detail
method and were based in a conceptualisation of knowledge as
relationship which was not evident prior to my research as I showed in the
artwork of Pupil B where a teacher is hated and in my original pupil
profiles and teaching of commercially produced programmes for dyslexia.
• I have demonstrated forgiveness, which I explained in terms of making
allowances for others and accepting that I don’t know the full story. This
includes accepting that there is no one right way of knowing and the need for
a constant search for fuller understandings, by constantly questioning my
understandings. My que
279
Questioning has been a vital part of my validation process and has been the
key to the reconceptualisation of metacognition and social-metacognition in
my research. These reflections, though grounded in personal knowledge,
are about interrogating all forms of knowledge.
• I have respected human dignity. I came to this research from a commitment
to the dignity of every human. By celebrating the learning capacities of
pupils with specific learning disability (dyslexia) I have come to two new
insights that have changed my teaching and I hope will influence others.
How I achieved this was by making space in my work for each pupil. A
teaching colleague stated (see Chapter Five) that I ‘made space for the
voices of those not normally heard to be heard’. When I was confronted
with pupils who were failing to achieve in literacy terms I did not see this
as an indictment. Instead I confirmed their humanity as best I could by
finding new forms of voice for them. The art, their taped discussion, the
oral presentation all demonstrate that there are many forms of knowledge
that are valid within a school setting.
• I have valued wholeness. I felt that the wholeness of pupils was denied by
the form of pupil profiles that I compiled about them in the early part of my
research, in that I focused only on the pupils’ minds and not on their bodies
and spirits. I attributed this to the form of knowledge that my profiles were
grounded in. During my research, especially in the pupils’ action research
into learning spelling and through their journals, I came to understand and
theorise that there are many ways of learning. My research methods had at
their core (see diagram in Chapter Six) personal knowledge and dialogical
knowledge and have led me to an acceptance of a commitment to the
reconciliation of a plurality of approaches to life and knowledge. In
devising and presenting their reports ‘Explaining dyslexia to ourselves and
others’ my pupils became accepted as whole humans within a whole school
d my children to
come to know.
came from a
ils but
ething for them. To me service meant
setting. In my research I have engaged with issues of how I come to know
and how my coming to know was informed by how I helpe
• I have demonstrated service. My decision to do this research
commitment to serve others. I wanted to take action to help my pup
this meant more than doing som
280
working with others to help them to help themselves. In the diagram that I
drew of my research methods (Chapter Six) the arrows that move to the
e even
n res
eveloped from the embodied personal commitments that I
plained in Part One as the Christian based commitments by which I attempt to
ng my values and my practice
on the concept of valuing the individual and has
otential importance for other fields of practice. The other fields of practice that
sides of the page indicate that this work is continuous and will b
whe my earch finishes. An example of this can be seen in the
Principal’s comments (on video, original in archive appendix 2.4g)
following my pupils’ presentation of their report to a class when he cited
pupils voicing a difficulty as a model to deal with educational difficulties
and said,
And if you tell us what that difficulty is, someone will help. If
you keep it all inside no one will know. And the problem will
get bigger and bigger. So you have shown that the way to
solve a problem is to share a problem.
(April 2003 video, original in archive Appendix 2.4g)
My conceptualisation of service was of action towards harmonising theory
and practice for the good of others.
These eight values have d
ex
live. The difficulties I experienced in harmonisi
initiated my research. I am claiming that I am now living towards achieving that aim
of harmonising my values and my practice.
11.3 My research has potential implications for other fields of practice
A major theme of my research was the idea of pupils and I co-creating knowledge
where children are categorised and labelled as having specific learning disability
(dyslexia). My idea is premised
p
have relevance for resource teaching are other forms of disability. In this section I
articulate the possible relevance and influence of my research on those labelled with
disabilities within our education system in primary schools (Ireland, Department of
Education and Science 2005a).
281
The focus of my claims about the creativity of the individual and their capabilities
for personalised and metacognitive learning can be seen to have relevance for all
those labelled with a disability. This is because my claims are grounded in ideas of
ability and positive self-concept rather than disability. My research has particular
relevance because of a major shift in Government provision for those with
disabilities in schools in 2005. The Special Education Circular 02/05 (Ireland,
Department of Education and Science 2005a) categorises disabilities according to
their rate of occurrence as low and h ary
schools. The low incidence category includes physical and sensory disabilities;
emotional disturbance and autistic sp trum disorders; speech and language
disorder; moderate and severe learning iple disorders including
assessed syndromes in conjunction with one other, low incidence disability (Ireland,
Department of Education and Science 2005a, pp.16-20). Resource teacher support
has consequently been withdrawn from pupils with specific learning disability
(dyslexia) and mild learning disability. They are now included in the high incidence
ose achievements are at or below the
nth percentile in English and Mathematics; and along with pupils with mild or
ere required to provide appropriate teaching for high incidence
upils without any extra professional development for those additional teachers.
igh incidence disabilities within prim
ec
disabilities; mult
category of disabilities along with pupils, wh
te
transient learning disabilities resulting from identified speech and language
difficulties or social or emotional difficulties (Ireland, Department of Education and
Science 2005a, p. 2). Prior to the issuing of this circular the latter group of pupils
were taught by resource teachers mainly on a two-and-a-half hour allocation per
week, and generally on a withdrawal basis (see Chapters One and Two of this thesis
and McGee 1990 and De Buitléir 2002) or in special units or schools (McGee 2004,
Nugent 2006). The change of provision gives only those pupils with low incidence
disabilities resource teaching provision. Under an extra general allocation of
teachers, schools w
p
According to the Department of Education and Science (Ireland, Department of
Education and Science 2005a) the core rationale for this change is
1. to make possible the development of inclusive schools;
2. to deploy additional teaching resources in a flexible manner;
3. to ensure that additional teaching resources are provided in a timely
manner;
282
4. to ensure that additional teaching resources are allocated differentially to
pupils in accordance with their levels of need
5. to allow for in-class as well as out-of-class teaching support
6. to allow for the grouping of pupils with similar needs as appropriate
(Ireland, Department of Education and Science 2005a, p.1)
y research is at the cutting-edge of this new system of provision because the
impli aff and not
only
2005) have responsibility for these pupils. So my study of my practice has relevance
n
research has influenced other resource teachers in my school to adopt many of my
chang ars 2003-
2005. child with
a hea hanges in practice
M
cations of Circular 02/05 are that since September 2005 all school st
the extra 2,500 resource teachers employed since 1997 (Dáil Question 806,
for other mainstream class teachers and teachers appointed under the extra general
allocation model who have recently been given responsibility for pupils with low
incidence disabilities in addition to pupils with specific learning disability (dyslexia).
To demonstrate this I provide practical examples below from my school of the
influence of my living theory during the course of my research on pupils from each
of the low incidence categories mentioned in 02/05. I describe practical changes for
pupils with low incidence disabilities such as (a) physical and sensory disabilities;
(b) autistic spectrum including behavioural and emotional disorders; and for pupils
with high incidence disabilities such as (c) speech and language disability, and (d)
mild learning disability.
(a) Pupils with physical and sensory disability
My ideas about capability teaching focus on ways of identifying individuals’
learning abilities. Earlier in this thesis I described how I have implemented changes
in my practice through a combination of reflections and dialogical methods of
collaboration in the learning processes of the children participating in my research; I
have told how I have generated a living theory of practice from within my teaching
of pupils with specific learning disability (dyslexia). The learning relationship
between my pupils and me was created within an ethic of sharing and respect for the
capability of individual learners.
My contribution to my own professional development during my self-study actio
es in practice and to extend them to all resource pupils during the ye
For example, a second resource teacher provided opportunities for a
ring impairment to experience his abilities in art. These c
283
284
resulted in the hearing-impaired child receiving awards as well as national and local
publicity for his artwork (Appendix 2.5f). Together the teacher and child also found
ways ing to read
and write. Rather than being marginalised in a hearing world, this child was
celeb ted fo
is paintings is framed and hangs alongside prints by Jack B. Yeats, Picasso, Renoir
005a). Those within this spectrum are believed to have a triad of
pairments, which include challenges to social communication, social interaction
nd flexibility in thinking and behaviour. Treatments for these difficulties have
to transfer his talents in visual perceptual skills to his ways of learn
ra r his talents and enabled to learn literacy skills in easier ways. One of
h
and other famous artists in our school corridor.
Pupil G’s picture
Picture 11.1: Paintings on school corridor
My research suggests that educative influence is an effective form of professional
development. For example, based on the influence of my work around voice,
capacity and individuality, a resource teacher encouraged a visually impaired child
in his singing abilities [he had an accurate ear], which he has transferred to help his
memory skills in the rote memorisation of facts such as tables (Appendix 2.5i). In
the validation of my own claims teachers have offered descriptions such as this of
their own practice, which show that by listening, trying out and expanding on my
ideas, teachers have been influenced to make changes in their professional practice
within my school.
(b) Pupils with behavioural and emotional disorders
The conceptual basis of my efforts to celebrate the capacities for learning of children
with specific learning disability (dyslexia) has possible relevance for those within the
autistic spectrum as defined by the circular 02/05 (Ireland, Department of Education
and Science 2
im
a
adopted a medical model of disability by prescribing medication and teaching within
erstanding
nd controlling her autism and become a socially acceptable person. Her experiences
understandings were constructed by
I am suggesting that my reconceptualisation of
plications for those with autism to come to an
difficulties earlier so that children can get attention sooner.
a strict behaviouristic approach. Structured Teaching is recommended for pupils
with autistic spectrum disorders, but I agree with Howley and Arnold (2005) who
argue that
this approach is misused with rigid adherence to structure that may
limit progression in key areas of learning.
(Howley and Arnold 2005, p.94)
In contrast to these approaches my research is significant in that it offers the
concepts of metacognition and the social construction of understanding for
individuals who have a disability according to current education norms. The form of
knowledge creation that I have developed cannot be achieved in settings which
adopt medical or behaviouristic models only. But my findings are supported in the
literature (Blackman 1999; and Hayden 2004 and 2005) where some individuals
have written about overcoming autism by gaining a metacognitive understanding of
their difficulties although they have not named it as such. An example of this is
‘Lucy’s Story’ (Blackman 1999), the story of a girl who rejected the treatments for
autism and her selective mutism and made a personal commitment to und
a
involved a metacognitive approach; her new
monitoring herself in social relationships with herself and others. As an outsider to
Lucy’s world, I, like all who know her, including professionals and family, do not
understand her world. We do not understand the world of those with autism
spectrum disorders and
metacognition has potential im
understanding of their difficulties. I am saying this because I believe a key learning
for me in my research was the need to search for appropriate forms of voice rather
than acceptance of normative forms of communication within an educational
context. The application of my approaches for those with behavioural and emotional
disability was confirmed by the following comments from two resource teachers:
My practices are similar now to what you talked about. It is relevant
for resource teachers but I think more needs to be done for class
teachers. I think class teachers need to know a lot more, how to spot
285
(Questionnaire response from Teacher P., in data archive Appendix 2.9)
It is very relevant for learning support and resource teachers. In an
iculties, they work within a medical model of disability and
t times use compensatory approaches. When those with stammers, who are able to
ideal 20:1 classroom too!
(Questionnaire response from Teacher P., in data archive Appendix 2.9)
Teacher P acknowledged the benefits of my approach. However she is working out
of a different epistemology when she talks of ‘more needs to be done for’ others
whereas I suggest that self-study action research offers a methodology for teachers
and pupils to act on their own behalf. The difference in what the teacher and I are
saying is that I do not believe that ‘more needs to be done FOR class teachers’. I am
suggesting that class teachers could learn from my self-study approach to take
control of their own practice in order to improve and theorise those practices.
(c) Pupils with speech and language disorder
The artwork, annotated transcripts and reflective discussions produced during my
research are some of the forms of communication I engaged in so as to enable the
voices of the children who participated in my research to be heard. This has
relevance for the teaching of pupils with speech and language disorder. Although
speech and language therapists diagnose and use multisensory approaches to
remediate perceived diff
a
sing, are encouraged to use the slow pace of singing and the appropriate breathing
techniques singing requires to help overcome their stammering difficulties, this I
believe is a practical example of a compensatory approach. My theory offers a
different approach where children could develop their capabilities in other areas to
help them overcome their disability. The difference between the compensatory
approach of some speech and language therapists and my approach is that I am not
devising compensatory strategies; instead I am enabling pupils to develop awareness
of their own capability and also to devise their own compensatory strategies. An
example of this was the pupils’ self study action research project into their learning
of spellings.
286
(d) Pupils with mild general learning disability
The categories of mild, moderate and severe general learning disability are assessed
by psychologists and defined only by low levels of intelligence quotient scores
partment of Education and Science 2005a). I have found that my
oup of pupils because their reasoning and
descr illoway
2006) e. Many
upils with mild, moderate and severe general learning disability may not be able to
nd service. Pupils with mild,
oderate and severe general learning disability have innate survival instincts and
constant theme throughout my research has been the creative relationship between
(Ireland, De
approaches are least effective for this gr
iptive powers are not commensurate with their age (Scanlon and Mc G
. Metacognition, as I have redefined it, requires the ability to critiqu
p
engage with my reconceptualisation of metacognition as personal and social critique
of what and how one learns because of their limited IQ. Despite this, my research
offers an epistemological and ontological approach that has relevance for these
pupils. My living theory has been developed within a capability approach, which
speaks to my values of human dignity, wholeness a
m
capabilities and I believe that my freedom-for-development approach would
encourage the building of learning on practical life skill needs (see Deirdre Walsh
2003). This is significant because a major focus of my research was to find a suitable
and more just epistemological base for educational research and practice.
~An international perspective to my study
My research has highlighted the importance of linking the idea of the value of the
person with the idea that people must be free to realise and exercise their values in
schools. This has potential international implications for those placed at a
disadvantage worldwide.
.
A
my pupils and myself. Within this relationship I perceive my pupils as my equals
and this is grounded in my ontological and Christian values. Similar to Arendt
(1998), I see others as valuable simply because they are people. This ontological
stance has allowed me to create links in my research between the value of the person
and the idea that people must be free to build on their own capabilities. I believe that
the methodology by which I arrived at my living theory of social justice in my
teaching of pupils with specific learning disability (dyslexia) is of key relevance for
287
the education of others marginalised as a result of social disabilities and who fall

disadvantaged travellers and pupils with specific learning disabilities. During our
research and in our joint paper, we claimed to be ‘Making the invisible visible –
giving a voice to the marginalised’ (McDonagh and Sullivan 2003). The term ‘the
marginalised’ raises issues around empowerment and the question of who were valid
knowers within our specific contexts. This led us to engage with ideas around
knowledge creation both in theory and practice. Our work with marginalised
children aimed to find ways to secure educational entitlement and transform
disadvantage into opportunity. Sullivan (2006) claims to have achieved this and I,
using a similar form of self-study action research, claim in this thesis to have done so
too.
The explanation of the significance of my research to others at a disadvantage within
the education system such as travellers lies in my emphasis on providing
opportunities for those at a disadvantage to have a voice that can be valued by
themselves and the institution in which they are situated. This was achieved by
providing opportunities for positive self-talk and reflection (see Chapter Seven). My
research has shown that this can only be achieved when the epistemological basis of
their disadvantage has been examined and, as Sen (1999) suggests, ‘constitutes
participatory resolution of epistemological issues’ (p.142). In other words the
marginalised require opportunities to join in a valuable personal decision making
process. This does not require the undermining of the institution, culture or society
that is the context of the marginalisation. Nor is it about financial input. It does
under the label of disadvantage within our school system.
My living theory of learning to teach for social justice can make a contribution to
combat the marginalisation of those at a disadvantage in education at two levels; first
I have removed issues of power from the teacher and pupil learning relationship by
providing opportunities for the voices of all participants to be heard; and second my
emphasis on a capability approach has provided the freedom to the marginalised
pupils to develop as learners. In McDonagh and Sullivan (2003), Sullivan and I
focused on ‘themes of social justice and equality which developed from our separate
research contexts’ (p.1) as primary school teachers of marginalised pupils
288
require a freedom to develop a personal understanding, as I have explained
throughout this thesis.
11.4
flowing water and it is buried by
(Coehlo 1992 p.25)
Throu I
above f
not se
etaphor can represent my research at several levels.
At on
eld the key to the development of new forms of theory in which my practice as a
nd
gic. The waves that uncovered the chest were the personal insider forms of theory
have bjectively what was happening in my context;
would and effect form of logic. This would have stifled
s
of theory and logic would have drowned my treasure.
At an
earni ch for social justice in relation to those with specific learning disability
the
nd my pupils’ learning. The uncovering of the treasure of
My
earni nced my critical
d
our tr denied the development of our new living theories.
An ending
Treasure is uncovered by the force of
the same current.

ghout this thesis I have used metaphors of water and waves. In this section
return for a final time to the words of Coehlo (1992) above. For me the quotation
speaks about the idea that when treasure is uncovered one should seize it; i
ized and used, the treasure can slip beneath the current and disappear. This
m
e level the treasure chest of my self-study action research methodology was
filled with innovative ways to changes practices and ways of thinking. This treasure
h
teacher could be theorised and improved. The current represents forms of theory a
lo
and fluid innovative logic that I chose. Propositional, outsider forms of theory would
provided ways to examine o
however these forms of theory would not have facilitated changes in practice. They
have worked within a cause
the innovative thinking that both my pupils and I engaged in. These traditional form
other level the treasure could represent my claims to my new living theory of
l ng to tea
(dyslexia). The current represents forms of learning. The waves represent
influences of my learning a
my living theory occurred in the interaction between the waves of our learning.
l ng influenced my pupils’ critical learning and they influe
learning. Together we tackled our learned helplessness which could have swampe
easure and
289
At the level of claiming to have generated new and original practical and theoretical
nowledge the treasure can represent the significance of my study for myself and
at uncovered this
easure were the personalised learning and benefits derived from being involved
my
metho
episte edge
gainst those practical and epistemological standards of judgement. The testing of
my research for
k
others. The current represents forms of knowledge. The waves th
tr
with communities of learners. These waves included my openness to placing
dology and findings firmly within my embodied ontological and
mological values. I tested my new, original practical and theoretical knowl
a
my theory against living values maintained the living relevance of
the pupils who participated, for the wider educational community and for myself.
290
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Appendices
Appendix 1 Ethical statement and letters of permission 315
cs Statement …………………………………………………………………….. 315
6
8
icipating pupils …………… 319
t from others…………………………………………………………………… 320
Ap udio-tape recorded conversations 324
tween class
3.1 on their personal view on how dyslexia
……………………………………………………………………………… 325
……… 325
3.2a:
3.2b:
3.3: 327
329
g changes in my pedagogy during my
332
on Plan 2001 demonstrating that I used a multisensory
………………………………………………………………………………. 332
5.2a: Sample Lesson Plan 2003 demonstrating that I used a metacognitive
approach …………………………………………………………………………………… 334
5.2b: An observer of this lesson wrote,…………………………………………………. 338
1.1: Ethi
1.2: Sample letter to Principal / Chairperson of my school Board of
Management requesting permission to do my research …………………… 31
1.3a: Sample letter to parents of participating pupils requesting consent to the
research ……………………………………………………………………………………. 317
1.3b: Sample letter to particpating pupils requesting their consent for my
research ……………………………………………………………………………………. 31
1.3c: Revised letter of consent to parents and part
1.4: Consen
Appendix 2 Items in data archive mentioned in this thesis 321
pendix 3: Transcripts from a
3.1a: Transcript from audio-tape recorded conversations be
Teacher D and Pupil K……………………………………………………………….. 324
b: Sample of conversation by pupils
affects them.
3.1c: Sample of conversation by pupils comparing their own learning
Transcript of a discussion between one cohort of pupils about Pupil T’s
drawing of his feelings about dyslexia………………………………………….. 326
Transcript of a discussion between one cohort of pupils about their
learning journals………………………………………………………………………… 327
Discussion 1 after presentation of project to teachers………………………
Appendix 4 Intervention programmes and alternative therapies mentioned in
this thesis
4.1: Intervention programmes and alternative therapies……………………….. 329
4.2: Sample pupil record sheets………………………………………………………….. 330
Appendix 5: Sample lesson plans showin
research
5.1: Sample Less
approach …..
Appendix 6: Individual pupil profiles and individual educational pl
g changes in my understanding of theories of learning
ans
howin Error! Bookmark not defined.
.1: Individual Pupil Profiles devised at the beginning of my research……. 339
………… 340
…………………… 341
ppendix 7: Sample questionnaires 342
instream classes about specific learning
…… 342
342
ion of
s
6
6.2: Sample Individual Educational Plan 2001 …………………………..
6.3: Sample Individual Educational Plan 2003 ………………..
A
7.1: Sample questionnaires to ma
disability (dyslexia)……………………………………………………………….
7.2: Sample questionnaires to teachers and mainstream class peers following
the presentation by pupils who participated in my research of their
reports explaining specific earning disability (dyslexia) to themselves
and others. …………………………………………………………………………………
7.3: Sample questionnaires to resource teachers and Dyslexia Associat
Ireland Programme Co-ordinators and Workshop Directors. …………… 343

314
Appendix 1 Ethical statement and letters of permission
1.1 Ethics Statement
rogramme I am undertaking an action research into
perience for pupils, of primary school age, with specific learning
ised resource teaching in my own practice as
chool. This ethics statement is to assure you
roval
d
e
ed of
nts will be kept informed of progress at all times;
all participants have the right to withdraw from the research at any time and all
assessing pupils’ progress.
n professional practice that may occur because of the above
influence of the project in the area of specific learning difficulties.
tionship between teaching style and learning capacity in my
an action research methodology for this
roject, I
et
s
ours sincerely,
Dear [name],
As part of my PhD research p
the learning ex
difficulties in the context of individual
a resource teacher in (Name) primary s
that I will observe good ethical practice throughout the research. Ethical app
is also being sought from the University of Limerick
This means that
• the permission of my Principal and Board of Management will be secure
before the research commences;
• the permission of the children and their written consent will be secured befor
the research commences;
• confidentiality will be observed at all times, and no names will be reveal
the school, children or staff;
• participa

data relating to them will be destroyed.
I aim to investigate;
o How I teach pupils with specific learning disabilities
o Improvements in my practice through changes in the content of lessons,
teaching strategies, methods of
o Changes i
activities.
o The
I plan to study the rela
resource classroom, so I have chosen
research. Pupils are co-researchers in this methodology. In this self-study p
will engage with the living theory perspective of Whitehead (1993) and McNiff
al. (1992).
I enclose two copies of this ethics statement, one of which is a copy for my file
and one of which is a copy for your files.
Y
Signature
Caitríona McDonagh
315
1.2 Sample letter to Principal / Chairperson of my school Board of
Management requesting permission to do my research
My address
date
and address of Principal / Chairperson Board of Management
ear (name),
e, I am conducting a piece of action
at I can encourage children to improve their
learning of English. I would be grateful if you would give your permission and
children and myself in conversation, photographs, diary recordings, field notes,
rantee that I will observe good ethical conduct throughout. I will
negotiate permission to work with the children. I will secure permission from
arents and children to involve them in the research. I guarantee confidentiality of
ormation and promise that no names of the school, colleagues or children will
ic.
make my research report available to you for scrutiny before it
ish, and I will make a copy of the report available for your
les on its publication. Ethical approval is also being sought from the University of
imerick
I would be grateful if you would sign and return the slip below at your earliest
convenience.
I enclose two copies of this letter, one of which is a copy for my files and one of
which is a copy for your files.
ours sincerely,
ignature
Caitríona McD
___________________________________________________________
o whom it may concern
I, [name], Principal / Chairperson of the Board of Management of [name of
school], give my permission for [your name] to undertake her/his research in
her/his classroom and in the school.
Signed ……………………………………..
[Name]
Name
D
Re: Permission to undertake research
As part of my PhD research programm
research into studying my work so th
support for this research.
My data collection methods will include audio and videotape recording the
reports. I gua
p
inf
be made publ
I promise that I will
is published, if you w
fi
L
Y
s
onagh
T
316
1.3a: Original letter to parents of participating pupils requesting consent to the
My address
dat
Name and address of parent
Dear [name],
Re: Per
n
n to improve their
ould be grateful if you would give your permission for
child] to take part.
the
hout. I
ts or
s
before it is
letter, one of which is a copy for my files and one of
les.
Yours sincerely,
Signature
aitriona McDonagh
__________________________________________________________
To Caitríona McDonagh,
I, r
re
Signed ……………………………………..
[Parent’s name]
research
e
mission to undertake research
As part of my PhD research programme, I am conducting a piece of actio
research into studying my work so that I can encourage childre
learning of English. I w
[name of
My data collection methods will include audio and videotape recording
children and myself in conversation, photographs, diary recordings, field notes,
and reports. I guarantee that I will observe good ethical conduct throug
promise that I will not reveal the name of the school, colleagues, paren
children at any time. If you wish I would keep you informed of progres
throughout. My research report will be available at school for scrutiny
published.
I would be grateful if you would sign and return the slip below at your earliest
convenience.
I enclose two copies of this
which is a copy for your fi
C
_
[parent’s name], give my permission for [child’s name] to take part in you
search.
317
1.3b Original letter to participating pupils requesting their consent to the
Hi K,
what is
he best way for you to learn.
ork
ha
research
I am trying to be a better teacher and I hope you will learn
t
Can I use your ideas to make our lessons better?
Can I tell other children, teachers and other people about our w
together?
T nk you
Mrs Mc Donagh
YES NO
FROM
6 TH DECEMBER 2001
318
.3c: Revised letter of consent to parents and participating pupils.
This letter was used from June 2002
Home address
Date
Dea a
ith some further study I am
doin A erick, I hope to write a
isse at my
grateful if you would give me permission to use
e of y
n
child’s ou may
below. uggestions from you at any
tim
1
r P rent,
I am writing to ask for your help w
g. s a student of the University of Lim
d rt ion during the coming years. In it I intend to reflect on
teaching.
I would be very
som our child’s class work – writing, taped conversations and
comme ts. Any information I use will be handled in confidence. Your
name will not appear in any published documents. Y
withdraw this permission at any time.
I would be grateful if you would sign and return the form
I would welcome contact or s
e during my research.
Thank you,
Caitríona Mc Donagh.
Dear Mrs. McDonagh,
I, {name}, give my permission for [child’s name] to take part in your research.
Parent Signature
{Parent Name}
Pupil’s name
[Pupil’s signature]
Date
319
1.4:
Le t
ress
e
Dear B,
part o undertaking an action research project to study
ils with specific learning difficulties.
The i d ethical practice
thro o
This

rese
the permission of the children and their written consent was secured before the research
com
conf
the
part
part
• all p ll data
relating to them will be destroyed.
I will re
videos, a standardised and diagnostic test results.
which is ease sign and return the form below.
s si
atu
Caitríon
_______ ______________________
o Caitríona,
B, give you permission to use my feedback as part of your research.
igned …………………………………….. [Participant’s signature]
[Participant’s name]

Consent from others
tter o colleagues requesting their involvement as a critical audience.
Home add
Dat
As f my PhD research programme I am
my own practice as a resource teacher of pup
eth cs statement below is to assure you that I will observe goo
ugh ut the research.
means that
the permission of my Principal and Board of Management has been secured before the
arch commenced;

menced;
• identiality will be observed at all times, and no names will be revealed of yourself,
school, children or staff;
• icipants will be kept informed of progress at all times;
• icipants will have access to the research report before it is published;
articipants have the right to withdraw from the research at any time and a
quire critical feedback from you on lesson plans, diaries, fieldnotes, photographs,
udio tape recordings and tape transcripts,
I enclose two copies of this ethics statement, one of which is a copy for my files and one of
a copy for your files. Pl
Your ncerely,
[Sign re]
a Mc Donagh
_______________________________________
T
I,
S
320
Appendix 2 Items in data archive mentioned in this thesis
. Journals
a My journal for 1996/7
b My journal for 2001/2002
c My journal for 2002/2003
Pupils’ journals for 2001/2002
f
a 20th June 2001 ‘Thank You’ card from pupil
ut his feelings
pervisor 14 April.2002 and 30 February 2003
itical friend 9 October 2001
on
n of their report on ‘Explaining dyslexia to
lves and others’
deo recording of ‘Making the invisible visible – giving voice to the
rginalised,’ paper presented at the Collaborative Action Research
Network Conference, Manchester, 15 September 2003.
f Video recording of ‘Presenting voice in action research’, paper presented at
inar ‘Critical Debates in Action Research’ University
erick, 5 June 2003
xplaining
rselves and others’ to class peers, teacher, student teacher, 2
ng
rrespondence and audio tape-recordings
a Correspondence from teaching colleagues: 2 March 2002; 12 March 2002;
6 April 2002; 19 March 2004; 4 June 2004; 4 November 2004; December
2004 and 30 June 2005.
b Correspondence from critical friend B: 20 January 2002; 28 February 2002
c Correspondence from critical friend A: 5 April 2004; 24 November 2004
d Correspondence from members of validation group: 12 August 2003; 14
November 2003; 12 July 2004; 21 November 2004; 21, 24 and 27
November 2004 and December 2004.
1
d My journal for 2003/2004
e
Pupils’ journals for 2002/2003
g Pupils’ journals for 2003/2004
2. Correspondence from pupils
b 20th March 2002 Pupil correspondence abo
c Pupil L’s letter
3. Correspondence with supervisor, critical friends
a Correspondence with su
b Correspondence with cr
4. Tape and Video Recordings and Photographs
a Tape 1: Individual pupils telling ‘How I learn spellings’
b Tape 2: Group discussions about utilising their various strategies.
c Tape 3: Preparatory discussions by pupils when designing their reports
specific leaning difficulties.
d Tape 4: Discussions with pupils and their mainstream class teachers
following the pupils’ presentatio
ourse
e Vi
ma
the Invitational Sem
of Limerick, Lim
g Video tape recording oral presentation by pupils of their report ‘E
dyslexia to ou
resource teachers and school principal.
h Photos of how pupils sat when writi
i Photos of teacher and pupils at work
5. Validation co
321
e
g of validation meetings on 12 February 2003;
6 November 2003; 4 November 2004.
h RTE 2 Dempsey’ Den announcement of 1st Prize in the Fingal Art
upil S singin multipl a
me’ 2002
s and others’ 2002
’ 2003
yself and others’ 2004
ut dyslexia including audio-tape
.
ipated in my research
teachers to questionnaires designed and
ticipated in my research
Dyslexia Association of Ireland
rs and Directors to questionnaires
pared with
with the Ethics Committee of the
2001 (prior to commencement of this
l.
From audience member at conference presentation; 12 June 2003
f From audience member at conference presentation; 22 June 2003 and 4
July 2003
Tape recording and transcript
Competition to Pupil G in my school.
i Audio-tape recording of P
Robbie Williams Song.
g his ication tables to
6. Pupils’ Reports and Artwork
a ‘Learning spellings: the best way for
b ‘Explaining dyslexia to ourselve
c ‘Explaining our learning difficulties
d ‘Explaining learning difficulties to m
e Pupils’ artwork and my paintings abo
recordings and transcripts of our conversations about them

7 Responses from mainstream classmates to questionnaires designed and
administered by the pupils who partic
8. Responses from mainstream class
administered by the pupils who par
9. Responses from resource teachers,
Workshop Programme Co-ordinato
designed and administered by me
10. Methods of learning spellings identified by children com
learning strategies
11. Ethical statement about data
The following agreement was made
University of Limerick in December
research) with regards to this materia
In submitting this Application Form I hereby agree to be bound by
documentation/footage which may
o footage, auditory and visual
is has been completed. Data in the form
s, fieldnotes, photographs,videos and transcripts
d ) are to be retained safely during
y data archive and to be destroyed
years after completion of the thesis.
Guideline 5(g) and will destroy all
reveal the subjects identity e.g. vide
documentation etc. once the thes
of lesson plans, diarie
and testing mentioned in section 4(
the life of the research process in m
within a two
322
12. Letter to work colleague to validate contents of data archive
Address,
3rd February 2002
elp with some further study I am doing.
hope to write a dissertation during the
ng and learning theories.
is
l reports and tests.
ect work, recordings, photographs
sing the form below – what is in
ted. Your name will not appear in any
tent. You
ay withdraw this permission at any time. I would welcome contact or suggestions
from you at any time during my research.
Thank you,
d above in the data archive of
Dear P,
I am writing to ask for your h
As a student of the University of Limerick, I
coming years. In it I intend to reflect on my teachi
During my research I will gather some data which
(a) The property of the school, like copies, schoo
(b) The property of pupils, like copies, proj
computer files and discs etc.
I would be very grateful if you would witness – u
my data archive when my work is comple
published documents without your consent and prior viewing of the con
m
Caitriona.
To whom it may concern,
I am aware of and have viewed all the items liste
Caitriona Mc Donagh.
Their representation in appendices is accurate
Signed (Name validation colleague) Deputy Principal of my school.
Dated 30 June 2005
323
Appendix 3: Transcripts from audio-tape recorded conversations
3.1a: Transcript extract from audio-tape recording of conversations between
Conver r M, Pupil K and me
class Teacher D and Pupil K
sations between class Teache
Actual words used in discussions My Triangulation
comments comments
Teache
hat
class?
Pupil
be ask
Teach
want
Pupil
quest
up my
hold m
at I know the
I don
Pupil K said ink so.’
Teacher D said, ‘You learn something new
every day. Thanks.’
r D said, ‘K, You never told me that
ier if you sat at t

you could write eas
angle.’
Pupil K said, ‘Yea’
Teacher D said, ‘What did I say to you this
morning?
Pupil K said, ‘Sit up straight when you’re
writing.’
Teacher D said, ‘You could have told me. I
would not have been insulted. Just put up
your hand.’
I said, ‘Do you often put up your hand in

K said, ‘Yes. When I don’t want to
ed a question.’
er D said, ‘You mean when you do
to be asked.’
K said, ‘No. When you ask a
ion and I don’t know the answer I put
hand. I avoid eye contact with you. I
y hand and arm up straight. When
my arm is up, you think th
answers. I don’t wave my arm. You think
that I am confident that I know the answer.
’t make eye contact. You look past
me and pick on somebody else to answer.’
Teacher D said, ‘Do I?’
Pupil K said, ‘Yes’
Teacher D said, ‘You have got a very good
strategy then. Do I do the same for other
pupils?’
, ‘Don’t th
324
3.1b: Sample of conversation by pupils on their personal view on how dyslexia
affects them.
3.1c: C
Personal view on how dyslexia affects you.
Actual words used in discussions My Triangulation
comments comments
Br said, Well it doesn’t exactly affect you at
home; cause you’re not doing any

thin(g)s…like it… just at school. That’s
where you see, that’s where you see that you
have that specific learning difficulty. Cause
when you’re outside playing sport or
omething, no, but when you’re doing maths
said,
teacher
s
or spellings, that when you find that specific
learning difficulty… a problem…you…
J Sometimes I always have to ask for
big words to spell.
By said, In school it affects you because
is always going too fast. And you
can’t understand the reading. You’d just read
a page and you can’t understand it.
onversation extract where pupil discusses his own learning
Comparing own learning with others.
Actual words used in discussions My
comments
Triangulation
comments
By said, I was watching the boy beside me.
sentenc
wrote i
me said
I said, H
the wro
By said

We were copying the news from the Board
every week or something. It was the first
time we were doing it. And I started at the
e from the wrong side of the page. I
t all backwards And the boy beside
‘you’re writing it all backwards.’
ad you not noticed you were writing
ng way?
By said, No.
I said, Did you think the boy was wrong?
, No
I said, How did you feel when he told you?
By said, I was slow.
325
3.2a: T
drawing of his feelings about dyslexia
Pupil T it.
at.
yes and the mouth and all that.
e eyes and the big nose. It has one
massive eye and one little eye. And it has a kind of key rings. It has
Pupil K
Pupil J
Pupil B
li
Pupil T w. Cause yea I tried to draw. Eyes. I tried to
draw ears. Nobody recognised my ears.
Pupil J said, I thought they were key rings.
Pupil M said, I noticed your lips.
Pupil T said, And I tried to draw a crystal. You thought it was a nose. It was
different. I used crayons for the rest and it was glitter. Will I tell you what I
was thinkin’ about when I drew it. What I see is dyslexia affects eyes, ears
and talking. That’s why I drew three things. And it jumbles them all up all
over the place, looking like a monster – J was right. So sometimes eyes are
getting messages. Sometimes ears are getting messages. Sometimes your
eyes are seeing things that you hear differently. Sometimes ears are hearing
things different from your eyes see them. That’s my bad drawing of an ear.
That’s an ear in there. I wasn’t very good at it. And anybody who has all this
jumble of all this – like with dyslexia – eyes and ears and lips — can see
things crystal clear.
All said, Aha.
Pupil T said, And think about things crystal clear and talk about things crystal
clear. So does that mean that you were wrong in what you saw in the picture.
Yes, no, yes.
Pupil Br said, Cause we seen things crystal clear on the picture.
Pupil J said, Wrong because I saw monster ears and mouth.
Pupil K said, If you draw scribbles. People just go, ‘Ah there is an eye. This is an
ear.’ People see different things in their own head.
Pupil By said, You can explain stuff by just scribbles and all that. Just what you
feel. I done it.
ranscript of a discussion between one cohort of pupils about Pupil T’s
said, Do you want to see my picture? I was facing that way when I drew
Pupil By: I think that the eyes are for the teachers and all that. They are
always looking down at you. And they’re always making you
uncomfortable and all th
Pupil K: It looks like a face there’s the two e
Oh yea the tongue. There’s the lips, there.
Pupil J said, I think it’s like a monster. With th
something beside the eyes.
said, Lips.
said, Yea. And the picture is kind of like lips and eyes.
Pupil K said, Yea and the nose.
said, I think its like all the teachers, looking and saying and talking to you
ke and saying you’re not good and all that.
said, I’ll tell you what I dre
326
3
journals
back over what I did in
e last few days and write it down and it makes me feel happy that I have done all
Pupil
differ
Pupil
Pupil
days
upil C said,’ I like writing in my journal because I learn new things everyday and
your
:
M).
Pupil
Teacher M said, At the same time Not having had it, myself, I need any help I can, to help
Pupil
Teach
Pupil
fraid of heights
eacher S said, It’s the last thing you would ask someone to do if they were really afraid
Teach at.
Teach
people in the class. And even though they put stuff on the board that doesn’t
Teach
Pupil
.2b: Transcript of a discussion between one cohort of pupils about their learning
Pupil G said, ‘I like to do my journal because I get to think
th
those things.’
L said, ‘I enjoy writing in my journal because everyday I learn something
ent and everyday means that I am learning more.’
Sh said, ‘It helped me with writing and spelling.’
D said, ‘More people would be able to know what I do everyday and the
of the week.
P
I write them down so that I wont forget them. And it’s a good way to help you with
writing and stuff like that.
3.3 Discussion following a presentation of pupil reports to Learning Support
teachers, (Teacher S and Teacher
B said, I you don’t have it you don’t know exactly what you’re looking for. Maybe
you don’t have any of that but you might have it a slightly different way of having
it.
me to find out about it. Like I mean should somebody who helps a person who’s
afraid of heights… should the psychiatrist be afraid themselves…be afraid of
heights himself or herself? Does that need to be the case? You know, should
somebody who is afraid of spiders be treated by somebody who is afraid of
spiders.
B said, Well I think it would be handier. Because they could tell them what would
help them and then if that didn’t help they could try something else.
er M said, They’d probably trust that person more.
B said, If I was afraid of heights and someone who wasn’t afraid of heights told me
to go and have a look over, I’d say, did you ever try to look down at some thing
when you were a
T
Pupil B said, Go face your fear that’s the worst, that’s the last thing I’d tell anybody
er M said, There is a section here that I wouldn’t even have thought of looking
And it’s called numeracy. You had it there. It is just about confusion with
number, with signs and a difficulty with maybe remembering the order of things;
such as days of the week, months of the year. I know it comes into maths when
you have a word problem. When you have a sum written down and you have to go
and make up the problem that goes with it. Well I wouldn’t have realised that it
came into the actual maths signs
er S said, I think too, that the teachers are trying to do their best too. There are so
many
suit you, they’ll understand that, they’ll make allowances for that.
Pupil R said, I think they should have different classes.
er S said, By right in a way every pupil should have his or her own teacher.
S said, They don’t tell their teacher they are all stuck in their maths and then they go
home with their homework and they get it all wrong. And the teacher goes, ‘What
happened to you? The person next door to him can, and like, he’s stuck on his
327
spellings and maths. And he’d be better off telling teacher instead of keeping it a
upil B said, But it’s no excuse. You can’t say I’ve got dyslexia and I’m not going to try as
Teach
e good at?
W
upil S said, I haven’t talked to teachers like that before. But I thought it would be
a good idea ‘cos they would know what it was like to be dyslexic and they
would know what to do if they had a dyslexic person in their class.’
upil B said, I’ve never had as much fun talking to a teacher. I thought that when
Mr. [Teacher S] and Mr. [Teacher M] left, that they had actually learned
something from the pupils not the other way round. They walked out
agreeing with us for once.
secret.
P
hard. You shouldn’t put it in the place of an excuse you should try and use it
smartly. You shouldn’t go to the teacher saying I’m dyslexic give me easier work.
er S said, We should make a handout so that parents and other teachers could learn
about dyslexia from you.
Conversation continues……to .’What are w
hen the teacher left I asked how the pupils felt.
P
P
328
Appendix 4 Intervention programmes and alternative therapies mentioned in
rapies
: The A-Z of Teaching
Reading, Writing and Spellings, 5 ed., Oxford: Heinemann Educational
Publishers. This is a phonetic linguistic approach to teaching reading, writing
w n e in
i o c k i nd
omp rogrammes.
d k 2, 2L and 3 (1995 to 2006) il Road, London W6 9DG:
t pace Lt . A computer programme based on Alpha to Omega 4.1
ove
lso J. (1986 2003) Phonological Awareness T (P.A.T.), London:
cational Psychological Service.
or reading, spelling and handwriting. It aims to
evel phonolo cal awareness; enables children to read and spell by making
nd provides strategies for word building and word segmentation
ills can be u d with indiv duals or g ups and h pupil books
. Johnson, M.,Phillips, S., Peer, L. (1999) Multisensory Teaching System of
Reading (MTSR), Manchester: Didsbury School of Education, Manchester
m Margaret Taylor Smith’s Multi-sensory
s,
e card packs, Letter
card packs, Reading concept cards, Suffix cards, irregular word cards and
sm s
5. Cowling, K. and Cowling, H. (1993) o b Toe: A i tructured Multisensory,
Phonetic Approach to Literacy, st Yorkshire: Cowling and
o ing h pro ram e claim to provide a highly structured, methodical,
ra al d m ethod of teach ng eading t r on the premise
m d i age of a word, which is beginning to slip from the
student’s me ry s g sped at a p n a forged t e truggle to recall
it’ It teaching the read g of polysyllabic words through syllable division.
Coaching the tud nt t rough re e ti n and repetition carries this
out.
The Dyslexi ba TM system ( ww. slexi @bay.co
this thesis
4.1: Intervention programmes and alternative the
1. Hornsby, B., Shear, F., Pool, J. (1999) Alpha to Omega
th
and s
three
c
pellings,
stages w
uter p
hich has bee
th 5 levels
used sinc
f pupil a
1974. It is
tivity boo
41 Ma
a structures
s, Pelman
progra
sm cards a
mme
2. Wor
Whi
shar
e S d
ab .
3. Wi
Edu
This is a daily programme f
n, to raining
d op gi
analogies; a
sk . It se i ro as 6 levels of
4
Metropolitan University.
This programme was developed fro
Teaching System (MTS) and is based on synthetic phonics where letter-sound
correspondences are taught directly and pupils are shown that they can build
words from individual sounds. The pack contains 2 Teacher Handbook
Demonstration video, MTSR Book 1 and Book 2, Pictur
all mirror ,
T e y H ghly S
We
C wl . T is g m s
g du an easurable m i r . I wo ks
that a ‘barely for e m
mo i ra th t oi t nd by h s
in
s e h p ti on, repetitio
6. a@ y w dy a m) involves a consultant
screening a person with dyslexia fo 4 indiv u l t nking skills. A
program e m ntal exercises is compiled. The exercises involve visual
pro ssi sk s t a le el consi d
of the non-la ua se tions of the br i to elp ove ficient language
skills, which are characteristic of dyslexic students.
r 1 id a hi
m of e
ce ng ill
ng
o
ge
v
c
dere superior to the average student and skills
a n h rcome de
329
4.2: Samples of pupil record sheet
. There is no pupil record sheet in the Alpha to Omega programme, instead there
acher
h d teaching each topic.
erated in the following format, giving
3. Pupil record sheet from. Phonological Awareness Training (P.A.T.)
s
1
is a list of contents that is tabulated so that it can be ticked when the te
as complete
2. Pupil record sheet from Wordshark
A printed pupil record is computer gen
game title and contents as well as date, scores and errors made.
Name of pupil: Class: Teacher:
Date Worksheet
Number
Worksheet
Completed
Reading Spelling Dictation
1 Date /20 /20 /5
2 Date /20 /20 /5
3 Date /20 /20 /5
4 Date /20 /20 /5
5 Date /20 /20 /5
WORDSHARK student record for Pupil J page1
Tues. Apr 16 14:38————————level speed errors peeps time
buckets:oa/ow/o-e Spelling Buckets 6 2 6:51
********soak, nose loaf, note, coat, coal
—————level speed errors peeps time
ing Buckets 3:53
ts: long /short o Spelling Buckets 5 2:03
2 1:58
:45
Word search: oa 1:34
Shark:oa 2:32
Wed Apr 17 13:52———-
buckets:oa/ow/o-e Spell

Wed Apr 17 14:08————————-level speed errors peeps time
bucke
***********rot , note, grow, show, wrote
Thurs Apr 18 13:48————————level speed errors peeps time
buckets: long /short o Spelling Buckets 2:03
************
Fri Apr 19 13:33—————————-level speed errors peeps time
Find jigsaw: oa
**************************boat, toad
Card Pairs: oa 2:02
Card snap: oa 0
330
4. Pupil record sheet from Multisensory Teaching System of Reading (MTSR)
e:
MTSR (UK Edition) BOOK 1: Pupil Record Sheet
Pupil Nam Date of birth:
Date Comment
Teaching
point
Lesson
No.
Introduced Revised Removed
from
regular
Checked
for
mast
Pupil
comment
review
ery
Symbols 1
Words 2
Sounds 3
Initial, 4
middle,
final
i = (ĭ) 5
t = (t) 6
blending 7
5. Pupil record sheet from Toe by Toe.
Day
Month

Coach or teacher mark a sheet similar to the one below. A slash is used to indicate
a word, phoneme or syllable read correctly and a dot is used to indicate an error.
Three slashes indicate that the student has mastered the target.
Day 10 11 12 13 D
Month
04 04 04 04
ay
Month
Prop \ \ \
Prom . \ \ \
Pram \ \ \
Press \ \ . \
Prod \ \ \
Prim . . \ \
Flab \ \ \
Flax . \ \ \
Flab \ \ \
Flan \ \ \
Flux \ \ \
Flag \ \ \
Girl \ \ \
331
Appendix 5: Sample lesson plans showing changes in my pedagogy during my
.1: Sample Lesson Plan 2001 demonstrating that I used a multisensory
approach
research
5
Area of curriculum: English: Group Lesson in Oral Language and Literacy for 5th
Class Resource Pupils (aged 11years).
This lesson was part of the ongoing teaching of 3 pupils – grouped because of
similar needs in literacy although they were from two separate mainstream classes.
The length of lesson was 45 minutes. Another teacher observed the lesson.
Objectives/targets:
I hoped that the students would –
en in
short passage using full stops, commas, speech marks, capital letters,
xt..
ower
blends bl, pl sp, cl and cr.
r, write the first paragraph of a five-paragraph story.
Summarise orally and answer lower and higher order questions on a text orally and th
writing.
Punctuate a
apostrophies, and question marks correctly when they re-write it. in a section of te
Using simultaneous oral spelling technique, learn 4 spelling set by class teacher at a l
level than the remainder of the class.
Read 10 words each containing the initial consonant
Using a story ladde
Teaching methods and strategies:
o Teacher and peer modelling
o Practice and repetition
o SOS method for learning spellings.
o Using a format for story writing.
Materials:
o Spellings set by class teacher.
dders.
o Copies pencils
o Story la
o Alpha to Omega Activity Pack 2 (Hornsby and Pool 1989).
o Dyslexia Association of Ireland guidelines on SOS method of spellings.
332
Development of lesson as it occurred:
Introduction: I reminded pupils of story to date in the book she was reading (Guns of
Easter).
Target 1
ad chapter five of Guns at Easter. Each pupil gave a summary of it. I pointed out
modelled the difference between a summary and a retelling of a story. They
wered 4 questions on the chapter orally and then in writing.
get 2
I re
and
ans
Tar
They punctuated as many sentences as they could in five minutes on p. 36 of Alpha
to O e
Target
m ga 2.
3
Usi s
tested t
Target
ng imultaneous oral spelling technique, pupils learned 4 new spelling which I
hem on and three other spellings from earlier in the week.
4
Pup itial consonant blends
bl, p
Tar
ils read aloud and in turn 10 words each containing the in
pl s , cl and cr
get 5
Usi te, by choosing a
le and composing 3 complete sentences each. I modelled a compound
sen c
then wr
Con
ng the same story pupils discussed what they would wri
common tit
ten e and asked them to make one of their sentences a compound sentence. They
ote their paragraphs.
clusion
Time permitting pupils rewrote any spellings, that they had spelt incorrectly, three
times.
The lesson relates to the following strands of the mainstream curriculum (Ireland,
Departm
Strand
ent of Education and Science 1999).
1. Receptiveness to language: Pupils will develop grapho/phonic strategies to
ena ncy in word identification
in using language:
ble the pupils to achieve greater proficie
Strand 2. Competence and confidence The pupils will engage
ation.
with books in a group setting. Pupils will engage in writing over a period through a
process of drafting, revising editing and publishing. They will observe the
conventions of punctu
333
5.2: Sample Plan and Lesson 2003 demonstrating that I used a metacognitive
approach
Area of curriculum: English: Group Lesson in Oral Language and Literacy for 5th
Class Resource Pupils. This lesson was part of the ongoing teaching of 3 pupils –
grouped because of similar needs in literacy although they were from two separate
mainstream classes. The length of lesson, which was observed by another teacher,
was 45 minutes.
Special Considerations:
Pupil L had a resource teaching allocation of 2.5 hours weekly for Mild Learning
Disability and needed clear simple instructions and direct rather than open-ended
ther pupils and I faced him to aid lip-reading. I repeated answers from other
ccas
questions.
Pupil H had a resource teaching allocation of 2.5 hours weekly for specific learning
disability. She had difficulty retrieving words so I supplied vocabulary when
necessary.
Pupil G had a resource teaching allocation of 2.5 hours weekly for a specific
learning disability. He also has a speech and language difficulty (receptive/hearing)
so the o
pupils on o ion to ensure that he had heard them.
Objectives/targets:
I hoped that the students would –
1. Summarise, ask and answer literal and predictive questions orally in the context
ctice oral
ons.
of text. This would be done in
text
of individually chosen library book currently being read. To pra
presentation, Pupil H would summarise and answer questions. Pupils L and G
would be encouraged through visual cue cards (pictorial for pupil L) to ask
predictive as well as literal questi
2. Name, identify and place full stops, commas, speech marks, capital letters,
apostrophes, question marks correctly in a section
the con of group games.
3. Individually learn, test and check 3 pre-selected spellings using differentiated
strategies.
4. Read consonant blends and nonsense words aloud and at speed in order to
increase reading accuracy using visual rather than semantic and pragmatic cues.
334
Pupil L would read real words with consonant blends vowels and final single or
double consonants (e.g. blot). Pupil H would read nonsense words with
consonant blends vowels and final single or double consonants (e.g. flott). Pupil
G would read three letter singular and plural words and syllables (e.g. pegs, cab)
5. Using a computer and dictaphone, pupils will plan, write or edit a story, which
they would compose using story ladder, to improve paragraph formatting. Pupil
L would prepare her edited text (in a Word document) for printing. Pupil H
would edit and handwrite her teacher-transcribed story. Pupil G would taperecord
ideas for future transcription.
Teaching methods and strategies:
o I encouraged attribution retraining through inviting pupils to engage in
positive self-talk such as, “now I can do it” or “it is easy”
o In order to improve their reading, writing and comprehension during this
gies for spellings, which focus on metacognition.
o Co-operative learning and games.
lesson, the pupils engaged in reciprocal teaching where the pupils adopted
questioning and critiquing roles, which have been modelled by me.
o Visualisation and verbalisation to aid comprehension.
o Individual learning strate
o Timing the speed and recording the accuracy of reading.
Materials:
o Spellings set by class teacher – numbers, words from Dolch List and misspelt
Record sheets for library books, spellings,
ritten by pupils
xpert in English, Alpha to Omega Book 2.
and real words,
Dev
words from pupils’ personal writing.
o Library books. Copies.
visualisation techniques and story ladders. Stories w
previously.
o Ideas from commercial texts e.g. Toe By Toe, Visualization and
Verbalization, Streets Ahead 3, E
o Cards containing initial consonant blends, nonsense
punctuation marks, question cues.
o PC, tape-recorder and spellchecker
elopment of lesson as it occurred:
Introduction: Recalling previous reading, pupils recorded any library books
completed on a reading chart under the headings of title, author, date begun, return
date and comments.
335
Target 1: I invited pupil H to compose 4 sentences about the library book she
was reading. The other pupils formatted a selection of questions to check
formation (who? where? what might happen next?) and 2 higher order questions,
epared and read one sentence aloud with
xpre ion from their library book. They used a five point strategy which they had
previo ) make
sense the piece
throu ing one
comp ich the
pupils uestions
about picturing
for?”
Targe
in
which she answered orally. Each pupil pr
e ss
usly devised (1) learn to read difficult words, (2) find where to stop (3
of the piece (4) highlight important words with the voice (5) read
gh silently. Pupils evaluated each other’s ability to read aloud – us
lementary comment and then critique. I read a four-sentences story, wh
evaluated; then visualised and answered literal and imaginative q
it. Pupils wrote a title for the story and answered, “what are you
(by which I meant, state a personal use for the visualisation process)
t 2: In a form of reciprocal teaching pupils worked together
t written by teacher in the following way. Pupils identified a
to punctuate
a tex nd named
punct letters,
apostrophes, speech and question marks) while playing snap with visual cue cards.
cation exercise, pupils worked together to complete the task of editing
teacher’s text quicker than the teacher herself in the context of a “Beat the teacher”
game.
Target 3:
uation marks (e.g. full stops, commas, speech marks, capital
As an appli
Having chosen three words, which they had written incorrectly in
earlier written work, each pupil looked at the words and decided their personal most
appropriate learning strategy, to spell them e.g.
1. Pupil L used syllabification and colour highlighting
2. Pupil H used look, cover, write and check.
3. Pupil G counted vowels or digraphs to establish number of syllables in the word.
Then traced the words in syllables three times while saying the letters; covered the
word and wrote it with eyes closed.
I tested the spellings learned and 7 additional spellings from previous days. Pupils
corrected the spellings and recorded their successes.
Target 4: Initial consonant blends for Pupil G and nonsense words for the other
pupils (written on card in large fonts) were placed on the floor. Pupil 1 stepped on 12
words or sounds as she read them aloud. Pupil 2 recorded the time taken and pupil 3
collected and counted those correctly read. The letter size and the physical processes
involved in this activity helped pupils focus on blending sounds and phoneme-
336
grapheme relationships. In a form of co-operative learning the pupils rotated roles
nd repeated the exercise. Individual achievements were recorded in terms of
number of correct words, date and time taken.
a
Target 5: I with each pupil individually about their writing of the
prev ay, not only to praise and encourage but as a scaffold towards
of critique
i g go clear,
helping the generation of n s and p upils were
encouraged to us ode crit a story
ladder in order to improve paragraph format nning,
d a tape-recorder.
c n Objecti s 5 w
P ke nclude words from their spelling te
Co
conferred
ious d
improvement in
ncluded descriptive praise, highlight
setting new targets for today. My modelling of a process
in od points, detecting what was not
ew idea olishing the final product. P
e this m l and join in ique for each other’s work. Using
ting, pupils continued with the pla
writing, editing
Differentiated a
upils were as
nclusion:
and production of written stories using PCs an
tivities outlined i
d to i
ve/Target ere carried out.
sts in their stories.
Pupils recorded any words that they spelt incorrectly in their writing
on their spelling she in the next Pupi ks and
activities and orally answering my questions ‘What did y ?’ and ‘What
do you want to d
The lesson relates to the following strands of the main
ets for use lesson. ls tidied up their boo
ou learn today
o tomorrow?’
stream curriculum (Ireland,
D E
1.
Pup deve e greater
proficiency in w
o Strand 2
The pupils will writing
over a period tho hey will
observe the conv
o Strand 3. Developing cognitive abilities through language:
upils will use basic key questions and checking questions to extend their
nowledge. Pupils will keep records of personal reading.
o Strand 4. Emotional and imaginative development through language:
upils will discuss personal reading and writing and ideas encountered in literature.
upils will read aloud from a personal choice of text and develop individually as
epartment of
o Strand
ils will
ducation and Science 1999).
Receptiveness to language:
lop grapho/phonic strategies to enable the pupils to achiev
ord identification
. Competence and confidence in using language:
engage with books in a group setting. Pupils will engage in
ugh a process of drafting, revising editing and publishing. T
entions of punctuation.
P
k
P
P
337
readers by experiencing success and the enhancement of self-esteem through
ading.
5 observer of this lesson w
most impressive range of appropriate teaching methods and
strategies. Your interest in and knowledge of the affective domain of
use
g and reciprocal teaching by,
for example modelling positive self-talk, questioning and critiquing. It
is quite clear that the pupils are well used to working in this way and
bviously enjoyi ing from this, For example the
e able to reflec rd in reading aloud,
ers o-operatively to edit a
Thr cussed on
ing pup use of
ving strategie
appropriate forum for the es.
ive Appendix 2)
re
.3: An rote,
You use a
teaching and learning informs your teaching. You made excellent
of techniques such as attribution retrainin
they are o ng and benefit
pupils wer
comment o
t on their use of cue ca
n each oth reading and work very
text written by you..
metcognition, ask
problem sol
c
oughout the lesson you fo
ils to reflect on for example their
s. The group teaching context was a most
use of these techniqu
(4 June 2004 Correspondence in data arch
338
6.1: Individual Pupil Profiles devised at the beginning of my research
Name M
Date of Birth 18.08.90
Sex male
Class 6th
Educational Test Date Results
Assessment by
psychologist
WISC
WORD
WRAT
May 1997
May 199
16.09.98
range. Non-verbal ahead of verbal.
Spellin 6.6 years
Comprehension 6 years
ntile
Spelling 7th percentile
16th percentile
7 Reading 6years
Word Recognition 10
Upper limit of the low average
g
th perce
Arithmetic
Test Date Results
Drumcondra
g
19.12.01 Vocabulary
32nd percentile
Comprehension
16th percentile
Total Reading score
23rd percentile
Primary Readin
Test
Drumcondra 23.05.02 Total score
Primary Maths Test 19th percentile
Standardised
Test

30 percentile
Comprehension th
35rd percentile
tests
administered
and marked
by class
teachers
Drumcondra
Primary Reading
15.12.02 Vocabulary th
37 percentile
Total Reading score
Family and
educational
M is ily with a history of specific learning difficulties.
He has not repeated any class. He received learning support in a
for 2 hours and 30 minutes weekly from
0. In Spring 2001 he followed the
wareness Training Programme by J Wilson
rvention
provements on the Drumcondra
t. I also have evidence of improvem
honic Skills ests.
1998. I was his learning support
her and I became his Resource Teacher in September 2001.
history group of 4 to 6 pupils
pt 200
from a fam
Sept 1996 to Se
Phonological A
(details in proposal) for 20 weeks. I believe this inte
programme caused his im
Reading Tes ent on pre- and
post- intervention testing on the Jackson P
M attended speech therapy in
T
teac
He has no known hearing or visual problems.
339
6.2: Sample Individ
e
ual Educational Plan 2001
Nam : Class:
Addre
:
ss:
Telephone
Date of Birth:
Commencement date: September 2001
Review date: January 2001
Summary of information available (form
National
al and ssessment.)
Educational Psychological Service report
informal a
He/ she can
Is a bright pupil
Skills Need
Do
Scores at 6oth percentile on
andardised Maths Test
ed
esn’t try hard enough
Is capable of better r sults
ogica
be rage on standardised
(MICRA)
st
(SIGMA)
Has no phonol
Scores two years
English Test
e
l awareness skills
low class ave
Priority Learning Needs (curriculum area(s) and strands)
ENGLSH: Sight words and Phonics
PRIORITY LEARNING TARGETS:
Targets
1. Alpha to Omega workbook pages 1-19
2. Complete level 1 PAT
rd
5.Read
list.
6.Pupil B will demonstrate that she knows letter
unds by indicating the letter when I say th
Target Date Date Achieved
3.Toe by toe page 6- 30
4.Wo shark short vowel games
20 words from Dolche common word
so e
sound on 10 occasions.
Teaching Strategies
Modelling and practice
M
Alpha to Omega Book 1
aterials/Resource
P.A.T 1.
Toe By Toe
Wordshark 2L and Dolche common word list
Home
Follow class Home work
340
6.3: Sample Individual Educational Plan 2003
Name: School:
Address:
Class:
Class teacher:
People involved in constructing this IEP
Class teacher, Special Ed. Teacher
Parent, Pupil:
Telephone: Commencement date: September 2003
Date of Birth: Review date: January 2004
Contact Information:
Parents: Minder: Family Doctor:
Reports on file from Psychologists (name):
Additional Information/Concerns:
Summa
information for example from parents, class teacher, psychologist, speech and
language therapists, etc.)
ry of information available (formal and informal assessment; summary
Summ
and Ne
ary of Strengths (including attainments, preferences, interests, learning style)
eds
Strengths Needs
Priority Learning (curriculum area(s))
Language, Literacy or Maths etc.
PRIORITY LEARNING: Pupil retains a personal copy of this section
Learning aims for the Period
1. Pupil, having identified his personal learning style for spelling,
will read and spell 20 words from the common list
Date Achieved
Teaching Strategies
Pupil composes higher and lower order questions on text, discussion of learning strategies,
metacognition,
Materials/Resource
Class texts, common word list
Pupil input:
Home input
341
342
Appendix 7: Sample questionnaires
7.1: Sample questionnaires to mainstream classes about specific learning
disability (dyslexia)
7.2: Sample questionnaires to teachers and mainstream class peers following the
presentation by pupils who participated in my research of their reports
explaining specific earning disability (dyslexia) to themselves and others.
What did you learn about dyslexia? Response
What other questions do you have? Response
What does it mean to be intelligent? Response
Are students with learning difficulties
dumb?
Response
Should boys and girls tell their friends
about their learning difficulty?
Response
Can you tell if someone in your class is a
lazy student and is struggling to learn?
Response
Whose responsibility is it to help a boy or
girl is having difficulty learning in school?
Response
343
7.3: Sample questionnaires to resource teachers and to Dyslexia Association of
Ireland Programme Co-ordinators and Workshop Directors.
Address
Date
Dear B,
Thanks for the opportunity to speak about my work at the resource teachers’
meeting in X on date. I was sorry that I didn’t stop speaking earlier and allow more
time for discussion.
In the light of this I would be interested in your critical comments on the following
in order to clarify whether my work is of value to others:
1. Was anything in the content new to you?
2. What did I omit that you think that I should have spoken about?
3. What good practices, in similar lines, have you personally used?
4. Do you think that the approach that I used in my work is relevant
for resource teachers, for learning support teachers or for class
teachers and why?
Please feel free to write more comments than the space here permits. If you would
prefer, just let’s have a chat.
Thanks, Caitríona

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