Higher Education – John Freer

John Freer

Higher Education

John’s Personal Experiences with Disability

In the following video, John speaks openly to his students about his childhood school experience with disability. In the true nature of a self-fulfilling prophecy and because John heard low academic expectations communicated to him, he achieved low academic standards. Now, a university lecturer, John shares his favourite quotes about grit and self-belief in the face of adversity as driving forces to success. John’s childhood experiences shaped his passion for social justice for students with disabilities through education. Mills (2010) argues that in order to achieve social justice and educational equality for all students, no matter their social or personal needs, education must “foster productive diversity that acknowledges the multilayered lifeworlds of students” (p. 9).

Differentiated Instruction Introduced

In conversation about inclusion, John introduces a teaching model known as differentiated instruction. He introduces this model as one that is inclusive of all students regardless of behavioural issues, medical needs, and learning disabilities. Differentiated instruction also caters to the needs of students who are culturally and linguistically diverse. Cumming-Potvin affirms, “Schooling is expected to be socially just and not influenced negatively by discrimination through sex, language, culture, ethnicity, religion or disability” (2009, p. 84). Moreover, Manrique et al. (2016) argue that “the institution receiving the special student must go through many changes, among them the formation of teachers, their ability to handle digital technologies and their pedagogical approach to engage students in multiple literacies” (p. 964). Thus, John communicates the importance of anticipating teaching and learning barriers and needs. By anticipating possible barriers and needs, teachers can better adapt and prepare their teaching, lessons, and activities to meet all students’ needs.

Watch the video below to hear John speak more about differentiated instruction and inclusive classrooms.

Debate Instructions

In the following video, John provides preservice teachers with instructions for a class debate. He first instructs the learners to think independently about their position in a debate about inclusion versus specialized classrooms before they engage in conversation with their group members. Thus, encouraging learners to take responsibility within group work as well as to learn how to share ideas and perspectives respectfully.

Rather than only lecture to his students about different structures and theories within special education, John designs active “learning experiences through which learners develop strategies for reading [and thinking about] the new and unfamiliar” (Cope & Kalantzis, 2009, p. 176-177). Moreover, through the debate, John gives preservice teachers a chance to engage in a relevant activity, one they can take and reproduce in their future classrooms to engage their students in experiential learning. Hibbert (2013) writes, “As our knowledge and experience of ‘multiliteracies-in-use’ grows, so too will our collective abilities to design relevant, engaging experiences with and for our students” (p. 33).

Debate First Round

In the following video, preservice teachers engage in the first round of the debate about inclusion versus specialized classrooms for students with special needs. In his role as moderator, John builds “a supportive [and an] interactive environment” (Lightbown & Spada, 2018, p. 25), where he “becomes a reflective designer of learning experiences (teacher-as-designer); and classroom plans become shareable ‘designs-for-learning’” (Cope & Kalantzis, n.d., para 4). By engaging preservice teachers in the debate, John highlights the importance of collaboration. Díaz-Rico (2012) emphasizes that collaboration is vital for “achieving social justice: equal access to, and opportunity for, equal education for all students” (p. 5).

Debate Final Round

In the following video, preservice teachers engage in the final round of the class debate.

Accessibility versus Inclusion

In the following video, John speaks to preservice teachers about accessibility versus inclusion. He highlights what accessibility means in terms of allowing persons with disabilities physical access into any space or environment. However, according to John, accessibility is not enough. Giving someone access to enter a space is not enough and cannot be called inclusion. In the same sense, extending access to students with disabilities into an otherwise homogeneous class or a standard classroom setup does not necessarily make that classroom environment inclusive of all students and their educational needs.

In conversation about inclusivity, accessibility, and differentiated instructions, Broderick et al. (2005) propose, “an understanding of inclusive education as education that seeks to resist the many ways students experience marginalization and exclusion in schools” (p. 195). Moreover, Broderick et al. explore the benefits of using differentiated instruction in inclusive classrooms, rather than special education pedagogy, and state, “Teachers who use DI expect students to bring a variety of experiences, abilities, interests, and styles to their learning” (2005, p. 196). Thus, teachers are able to anticipate student needs and “natural diversity [better] when planning and delivering rigorous and relevant, yet flexible and responsive, instruction” (Broderick et al., 2005, p. 196). Consequently, the conversation shifts from classrooms being accessible, to classrooms being “[supportive of] diversity, equity and inclusion” (Drewry et al., 2019, p. 73), by seeking to engage all students while catering to their learning needs.