Circle Time as an Inclusive Learning Space: Exploring Student Teachers’ Prior School Experiences.
Keywords:Inclusive learning, circle time, teacher educators, SPHE, mixed methods inquiry, students’ prior experiences
Promoting inclusive practices has become a priority for many higher education institutions (Higher Education Authority (HEA) 2008). Inclusive learning is promoted across a number of teacher education courses as part of the Bachelor of Education (B.Ed.) degree. Circle time - a widely employed and popular learning method amongst primary and post-primary teachers – is conceptualised as one effective method for facilitating inclusive learning at third-level. Drawing on research which investigated student teachers’ prior experiences of and attitudes towards circle time in their primary and post-primary schools (Collins and Kavanagh 2013), this paper critically assesses the extent to which the practice of circle time reflects its inclusive theoretical underpinnings in light of research findings, and highlights some implications for teacher educators who wish to promote inclusion in their courses.
The methodology employed was mixed methods, with the use of a self-administered questionnaire distributed to 200 students and provision for focus group interviews with a small number of students. Two key research questions were identified: what was your prior experience of circle time at primary and post-primary school; and how will this impact on your future use of the method in your own teaching practice?
The research uncovered both positive and negative aspects of students’ prior experiences of circle time and practices which support and undermine inclusion. Circle time’s capacity to facilitate students’ voices and peer discussion were cited as key benefits but some students did not feel that they were provided with opportunities to participate on an equal basis either with each other or with the facilitating teacher. These findings suggest a need to modify practices in order to promote inclusion, participation and equality of voice. This paper’s findings and implications may resonate with other third level practitioners who seek to facilitate inclusive learning as part of their pedagogical approach.
 In this paper, inclusive learning is conceptualised as organising learning to ensure that all students are provided with opportunities to actively and meaningfully participate in the learning process (Kershner 2009; Black-Hawkins, Florian, and Rouse 2007). In particular, it requires providing students with equal opportunities to exercise their voices, to have a say in decisions which affect them and to have what they say taken seriously and acted upon (Cook-Sather 2006; Holdsworth 2000).
All articles published in AISHE-J are released under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 licence.