Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Education

The Inclusion of Children with Special Educational Needs in an Intensive French as a Second-Language Program: From Theory to Practice

Academic journal article Canadian Journal of Education

The Inclusion of Children with Special Educational Needs in an Intensive French as a Second-Language Program: From Theory to Practice

Article excerpt

The term inclusive education, although theoretically and pragmatically imprecise, represents a move to internationalize the language of special education (Slee, 2006). It is an "elusive and much contested" term (Mowat, 2010, p.631) with little shared understanding of its meaning (Smith & Barr, 2008). There is, however, a shared understanding of the goal of inclusive education, that it is to be a means of improving educational participation and opportunities for all, "especially those at risk for marginalisation and social exclusion" (Reicher, 2010, p. 214). The inclusion philosophy is designed to better appreciate and accommodate the diversity in schools (Salend, 2001) and beyond the school to include students in society in general (Curcic, 2009).

Global interest in inclusive education by organizations such as the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO); the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD); and the World Bank is based on the premise that inclusion is a human right (Crawford, 2008), or what Slee (2006) refers to as an ideological commitment, a way of understanding the world and education's role within it (p. 112). The Salamanca Statement on Principles, Policy, and Practice on Special Needs Education (UNESCO, 1994) called for reform of schools to support inclusion and the accommodation of physical, intellectual, social, emotional, linguistic, or other conditions.

One recommendation of the Statement is the dissemination of examples of good practice. However, there is no agreement among researchers on what actually constitute inclusive practices (Curcic, 2009). In general, inclusive education is a relatively young field without an established base of empirical research (Dyson, Howes, & Roberts, 2002) and without many attempts to present in-depth analyses of inclusive classroom processes (Nilholm & Alm, 2010). Yet, it is necessary to study these processes and how teachers establish inclusion in order to help overcome more general barriers to educational and social inclusion (Nilholm & Alm).

The study we report on in this paper provides an opportunity to focus on inclusion in a unique context. More importantly, it provides an illustration of what inclusive practices might look like and what they might result in. The context in which we studied inclusion was a five-month, three-hour-per-day Canadian program of intensive second-language learning called Intensive French (IF). We focused on eight classes of Grade 6 IF in which students are included in the program, regardless of whether they do or do not have special education needs (SEN). During the 2010-2011 school year, 25 of the 52 schools offering IF in Newfoundland and Labrador included all students in their Grade 6 IF classes. There were no non-IF classrooms even though the schools may have multiple classes of Grade 6.

To gain insight into practices in that context, we focused on what Gutierrez and Rogoff (2003) referred to as "the broader context of the entire culture of learning" (p. 23) including cultural artefacts and tools, social relations, rules, division of labour, and communities (p. 22). We adopted an Activity Theory (AT) framework as a lens to understand the context. AT investigates human activity as a system that is "object oriented, collective, and culturally mediated" (Engestrom & Miettinen, 1999, p. 19).

Activity systems include interacting, mediating components of subject, object (motive of activity), instruments (tools and mediating artefacts), division of labour, community, rules, and outcomes (Engestrom, 1987). The subject is at the centre of the activity and has a particular object or motive for engaging in the activity, the outcome of which is mediated by all the other components of the system. Community members are those who share in the activity's object while the division of labour refers to how activity within the system is proportioned or regulated. …

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