Academic journal article Indo - Pacific Journal of Phenomenology

Investigating the Experiences of Special School Visual Arts Teachers: An Illustration of Phenomenological Methods and Analysis

Academic journal article Indo - Pacific Journal of Phenomenology

Investigating the Experiences of Special School Visual Arts Teachers: An Illustration of Phenomenological Methods and Analysis

Article excerpt


Prior to the mid-1990s, discourse in the field of the art education of students with disabilities was dominated by the concept of "ableism", emphasizing the physical and functional limitations of disabled persons and how these "problems" could be overcome in the teaching context (Eisenhauer, 2007). For example, some of the common learning difficulties demonstrated by students with intellectual disabilities were identified as: concrete rather than abstract thinking, poor short-term memory, attention to irrelevant details, and poor reasoning skills (Gerber, 2006). Accordingly, a vast body of literature evolved exploring ways in which teachers could help students with intellectual disabilities to learn visual arts. Hume (1998), for instance, offered a list of supportive teaching practices: breaking down tasks into separate steps, removing all possible distractions, allowing more time, providing a choice of materials and media, and using non-verbal affirmation.

However, in more recent discourse, there has been a shift in orientation from viewing disability in terms of personal or medical limitations to seeing its attributes as socially, culturally or politically constructed (Bolt, 2012; Penketh, 2014). Wexler (2011) also notes that the medical model of explaining disability has given way to perceiving disability as a "subject of study comparable in critique and analysis to ethnicity, gender, and sexuality in its lived and constructed realities" (p. 55).

Besides familiarizing myself with the discourse on the notion of disability and the education of those affected, as a teacher educator in the visual arts field it was also vital that, before embarking on any serious writing or research in the area, I gain an understanding of classroom interactions and the lived experiences of special school teachers. The present study was thus designed to address the following research question: What is it like to teach visual arts to students with intellectual disabilities? Since the study was focused on acquiring an interpretative understanding of the meaning of the experience, a hermeneutic phenomenological research methodology was selected as conducive to producing "rich textual descriptions of the experiencing of selected phenomena in the life world of individuals that are able to connect with the experience of all of us collectively" (Smith, 1997, p. 80).

This study was conducted in the educational context of Hong Kong. In general, education of students with special needs is delivered either in mainstream schools with a modified curriculum and additional support or through placement in special schools. In September 2009, the Hong Kong Education Bureau adopted a new three-year senior secondary and four-year undergraduate academic system. To align with this change, it is stated that students with intellectual disabilities from special schools are entitled, in the case of visual arts, to be educated within the same curriculum framework as mainstream students (Curriculum Development Council, 2009). In the new senior secondary curriculum, visual arts is one of the elective subjects available to special school students. Previously, special school visual arts curricula had been largely school-based, and teachers had adapted the mainstream school curriculum and devised teaching and learning activities catering to the needs of their own students. In addition to addressing the dearth of research in the new curricular context, I trust that the insights generated by this study will be instrumental in promoting understanding of teaching experiences in various contexts and, in the process, serve to inform current teaching practice.


Theoretical framework

The method we choose to use to conduct research not only affects the outcome of the investigation, but also reflects how we see the world. Phenomenology is the philosophical as well as the methodological framework selected for this study. A 20th century philosophical movement, phenomenology evolved in opposition to the reliance of the natural scientific worldview on positivist methods and theories. …

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