Compelling reasons exist for moving toward inclusion of diverse learners in Jewish day schools. Graduate programs face the challenge of preparing pre- and in-service teachers as effective educators for inclusive settings. While the development of skills is vital, the inculcation of positive attitudes regarding diverse learners may be equally important. This article explores the process of using student work to evaluate students’ attitudes in the context of a course on teaching diverse learners in a Master’s degree program. The adaptation of course learning activities and assessments are described and excerpts of student work are provided as well as the preliminary coding procedures developed. The question of whether attitudes and dispositions can be assessed from student work is considered and suggestions for course design and future research are offered.
This article describes a preliminary attempt to use students’ work–discussion board posts, in particular–to assess student attitudes. In this instance, our interest in assessing attitudes flowed directly from an appreciation of the role they play in supporting teachers’ inclusive practice (Vaz et al., 2015). We discovered that such an approach is clearly possible, and can yield information not only about students’ attitudes, but about the impact of course content and assignments. The preliminary review of student responses, and the existence of a previously established way to understand inclusive attitudes (Berry, 2008) contributed to the development of coding categories and procedures which can be applied to other iterations of this course as well as other courses in our Master’s program.
The results of the current study demonstrated a variety of important themes are present in students’ attitudes about inclusion. It is heartening to note the high number of coded responses in the categories of empathy, and concern that inclusive practice might be unfair to the diverse learner. There were also frequent comments that revealed an understanding that what benefits diverse learners in the classroom, benefits all learners. Students’ concerns about the demands that inclusion places on the teacher, especially in Jewish educational settings, and their worry that typical learners may be adversely effected, suggest the need for additional exploration of these attitudes, and review of course materials to determine whether they adequately address such concerns. Finally, the unique challenges in Jewish educational settings, and for teachers of Jewish studies in particular, can and should be directly addressed in graduate coursework preparing Jewish studies teachers. Graduate schools of education traditionally value and teach reflective practice, but without adequate time and a vehicle for faculty to reflect on their teaching and course development, it may not occur. Coding of student responses on this course discussion board revealed what we know to be true in education—student learning cannot be assumed, but must be continually evaluated. Assumptions about the impact of certain readings proved wrong, and without targeted discussion-prompts students did not necessarily share their attitudinal response. Careful analysis of which assessments (i.e., discussion boards, written assignments) provide the optimal window into students’ beliefs and attitudes, and which learning activities best support development of pro-inclusion beliefs and attitudes, is a process that must inform decisions both within this course, and across the arc of a program, on a continuous basis.