National Inclusive Education Month Commentary #20
By Odet Moliner García
One of the factors that determine the construction of the inclusive school is the degree of involvement and responsibility assumed by the members of the educational community: families, teachers, students and the rest of the social actors. Community participation, to be genuine, must be democratic, and this requires a school context that provides opportunities to learn and practice it.
In democratic schools everybody has the right to full information and to critical participation in creating school policies and programmes. In addition, the democratization process of the school culture has a lot to do with the educational practices developed in each school. The different methodological strategies used in inclusive classes allow students’ increased participation and involvement in the teaching-learning process. It also can improve interactions and cooperation, promotes self-directed learning and conflict resolution. Families are drawn closer to the school and they can strengthen their support for the teaching and learning task.
The school CRA Benavites-Quart near Valencia (Spain) is a two campus rural school that consists of two school buildings located in small municipalities near each other. The school has 150 students and 15 teachers and some of its classrooms are multigrade (3rd-4th and 5th-6th). CRA Benavites-Quart is a school committed to the inclusive model.
They have implemented several innovative instructional programs that enhance inclusion. One is a practice based on the educational program Reading in Pairs (Durán et al. 2011) that focuses on peer tutoring. The idea arose three years ago when the teachers’ main concern was to improve the reading skills of all the students, as well as increase the involvement of families.
How is this educational practice carried out?
Each week paired reading sessions are organised in every class. The student who will act as the tutor prepares at home with the help of a family member. Together they prepare a Reading Lesson and some Reading Comprehension Activities. The class session is divided into four parts: 1. the tutor reads (modelled); 2. both of read at the same time; 3. the tutee reads; and 4. the tutee does the exercises (which are corrected).
Students strengthen their understanding of the dynamics of the process and then gradually the structural supports are removed. It is a reciprocal tutoring model and partners are changed each quarter.
In the second year of the program, the teaching staff wanted to determine the effectiveness of the process in ensuring democratic participation and inclusion. They sought collaboration by the research team MEICRI at the University Jaume I of Castellón (Spain). A collaborative inquiry processes was introduced in the school and classrooms. Mothers and external observers participated in the information gathering process. The information was collected using observation sheets, videos and interviews. When completed, the results were analysed and shared among the parents, teachers and students. This generated a very interesting reflective discussion about the effects of this educational practice.
The results showed that peer tutoring facilitates the democratization and inclusion processes in classrooms and schools. Some of the reasons for this include the following:
a) It encourages the active involvement of all the students in the process of teaching-learning, since it gives them an active role, both as tutors and tutees. Everybody has their own moment “in the spotlight”. A teacher states, ‘Everybody participates. For example, the girls in this class are very shy and acting as tutors helps them. Otherwise, boys, as they are more impulsive “would overcome the girls”.
b) It makes families’ involvement possible by means of the preparation at home of the Reading Lesson and the Reading Comprehension Activities. ‘We clear up any doubts together and look up the words in the dictionary, give intonation, …’ says a mother. Thus, parents appreciate the teachers’ work, know what their children are learning, can give their opinion, propose improvements and feel part of their child’s education.
c) It promotes conflict resolution and support among students. Students are encouraged to problem-solve and situations of mutual support are stimulated. ‘If you don’t know how to write this word, use the proof-reader;’ says a girl to another.
d) It favours collaborative work among the teaching staff. The development of this educational practice at school level requires coordination (the use of online collaborative tools such as Dropbox or Drive), training (self-provided) and monitoring and evaluation (each quarter, coinciding with the evaluation session).
In the end, peer tutoring enhances the opportunity for all the students to learn to read and promotes democratic engagement in schools. This is due to the introduction to the school of participatory processes, the practice of dialogue, maintaining mutual support and assistance. It also promotes the negotiation and rational deliberation of the opinions of all the actors involved in the school.
Peer engagement truly does create and sustain democratic inclusion in the school.
Odet Molinar García is a Professor of Education at University Jaume I of Castellón (Spain). She specializes in inclusive education. Professor Molinar has participated in research projects in Spain and Canada.
 Duran, D. (Coord.), Blanch, S., Corcelles, M., Flores, M., Oller, M., Utset, M., & Valdebenito, V. (2011). Leemos en pareja. Tutoría entre iguales para la competencia lectora. Barcelona: Horsori