"The myth of inability" : exploring children's capability and belonging at primary school through narrative assessment.
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameDoctor of Philosophy
This research is about teaching, learning and assessment. It is about the belonging of disabled children at school. In New Zealand schools, the term ‘inclusive education’ is associated with the idea of disability. This research moves away from using the term ‘inclusive education’, towards the term ‘belonging’. The intention is to direct focus on all children and on community.
The national New Zealand Curriculum guides all teaching and learning decisions and requires that every child receives quality learning experiences that enable them to achieve (Ministry of Education, 2007, p. 39). New Zealand education policies and documents place children at the centre of assessment processes, where it is intended that their learning progress is recognised and ongoing learning trajectories planned (Ministry of Education, 2011a, 2014, 2016a). Assessment is understood to be critical to quality teaching and learning (Ministry of Education, 2011b). Quality teaching is challenged by assessment practices that fail to account for the learning and progress of some disabled children who are invisible in assessment data. Children may become marginalised within the rich curriculum available to their peers if their learning potential is unrecognised and unsupported (Florian, 2014b; Morton, 2012; Slee, 2011).
This qualitative research project explores the potential of narrative assessment to recognise the capability and learning potential of every child and their belonging in the curriculum and their school community. Narrative assessments incorporate multiple voices to capture and document teaching and learning in authentic contexts, combining observation, recording, interpretation and analysis (Carr & Lee, 2012; Gunn & de Vocht van Alphen, 2010; Ministry of Education, 2009c). They are used formatively to support ongoing praxis, and are personalised to celebrate each child’s strengths and motivations (Wiliam, 2011a). The research aims to inform education policy and teaching practice so all children are recognised as capable learners within collaborative and equitable assessment processes.
The project took place in a primary school in urban New Zealand, involving children, families and educators. A Disability Studies in Education (DSE) framework is used to explain disability as socially, politically and culturally constructed (Gabel, 2005; Mills & Morton, 2013). Critical ethnography was selected as the qualitative approach for this work, as it supported bringing marginalised voices to the fore to unmask discriminatory and repressive practice, and is a means of invoking social consciousness and educational change within broader structures of social power and control (Thomas, 1993). Storytelling is a feature of narrative assessment and is recognised as an effective approach to teaching and learning which can provoke change at a personal and systemic level (Clandinin & Connelly, 2000). The routine inclusion of photographs, artwork, pictures and symbols as well as written text within narrative assessments links to broader concepts of literacy and aligns with the theory of visual ethnography (Kliewer, 2008b; Pink, 2007; Rose, 2012).
This research challenged “the myth of inability”, bringing teams together to show that a formative approach to narrative assessment recognised the capability and learning success of every child by incorporating the voices of children and those who know them well in responsive, effective classroom pedagogy (Lundy, 2007; Skidmore, 2002; Smith, 2015; Wansart, 1995, p. 175). Narrative assessment enables teachers as caring and professional leaders of classroom learning to support children’s belonging within the vision, values, principles and learning areas of the New Zealand Curriculum (Monchinski, 2010; Noddings, 1995).