Five teachers talk about contextual factors involved in teaching students on the autistic spectrum (AS) – a case study
Degree GrantorUniversity of Canterbury
Degree NameDoctor of Philosophy
This thesis examined the contextual factors involved in teaching six students on the autistic spectrum (AS) in a regular primary school in Aotearoa/New Zealand. The research looked at the work of five teachers, including myself as a participant researcher. Through classroom observations and in depth conversations this research aimed to uncover how the teachers tried to meet the needs of their students on the AS and what affordances and/or constraints they encountered in their journeys. A social constructionist approach framed the research approach, together with a constructivist understanding of teaching and learning and these were used in conjunction with a philosophical activity theory base to explore mediators within the complex teaching and learning contexts. The contrast between teachers viewing the AS as a disability or a difference was found to be important to the way the teachers constructed their student’s value in the class or their willingness to try and meet the student’s needs. This is in line with findings that teachers’ attitudes towards disability are a key factor in the inclusiveness of teaching (Macartney & Morton, 2011; Tait & Purdie, 2000). The role of support professionals in developing inclusive teaching was found to be complex, being both affording and/or constraining for the classroom teacher. The complexity of teaching and the myriad of mediators (Lampert, 1985) involved in teaching students on the AS was analysed to uncover a number of key mediators. One of the key mediators was found to be teacher construction of the student on the AS as competent which was linked to the construction of teacher as competent (Morton, 2011). Key affordances to viewing the student on the AS as competent were the teacher having a belief in the value and worth of the student as a person and a learner and having an understanding of what it means to be a student on the AS. Teacher willingness to be student focused was found to be an important affording mediator, where there was a perceived conflict between student need and school or national policies.