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Towards inclusive schools: a study of how a teacher facilitate differentiated instruction

Annlaug Flem, Torill Moen and Sigrun Gudmundsdottir

Department of Education, Norwegian University of Science and Technology, N-7491 Trondheim, Norway

Paper presented at the European Conference on Educational Research, Edinburgh, 20-23 September 2000


In the last few decades, the view of special education has gradually changed in Western societies. Instead of segregating students with special needs in special classes and schools, the ideology of inclusive education is about fitting schools to meet the needs of all pupils. The educational system is responsible for including a large diversity of pupils and to provide for a differentiated and appropriate education for all. Yet, the ideology of inclusion seems to be a major challenge in many countries (Clark, Dyson, Millward & Skidmore 1997, Flem & Keller 2000, Haug 1999, Hughes, Schumm & Vaughn 1996). The purpose of the study reported in this article is to arrive at a deeper understanding of how to include students with special needs in ordinary classrooms.

Special education has been influenced by various ideologies, which, needless to say, means that there are many ways of understanding how the teaching could be realised. To understand the changes taking place it is important to look at special education as a social and cultural phenomenon. The educational system is influenced by the knowledge traditions, values and attitudes in society. Traditionally, special education has focused more on the individual, functional disorders of pupils with special needs. The trend is now towards a more comprehensive, contextual and ecological approach.

There have been three dominant paradigms in special education: the psycho-medical, the sociological and the organisational paradigms (Skidmore 1996). Each paradigm draws on a distinct theoretical framework and tends to explain complex phenomena as an outcome of a single, unidirectional model of causation. The psycho-medical paradigm emphasises that special needs arise from deficits in the individual, while the sociological paradigm emphasises that special needs arise from the reproduction of structural inequalities in society through sorting and tracking, and the organisational paradigm is based on the belief that special needs arise from deficiencies in the ways in which schools are organised. As an alternative approach, Skidmore suggests an integrated theoretical framework for research in special education which focuses on all three levels: the individual, the societal and the institutional. At the individual level it is important to focus attention on the interactive process of learning, at the societal level on the dilemmas of schooling and the social construction of special educational categories, and at the institutional level on the dialectical analysis of organisations and organisational ambiguity. Other researchers have called the emergence of a new holistic paradigm a holistic/constuctivist approach (Lewis 1998) or transactional approach (Stangvik 1998).

If the inclusive school is to succeed, we thus need re-education, reorganisation and value change (Stangvik 1998). In Norway, there has been a development from segregation to integration and inclusion. Students with special needs now have the right to be educated in their own local school. In keeping with the Norwegian school tradition, the aim of compulsory school is to provide an "adapted" education, which means that all students have a right to an education in accordance with their aptitudes and abilities. However, the discussion in Norway has focused more on the policy of inclusion than on the realisation of this policy. The literature in this field rarely addresses specific classroom situations nor does it examine appropriate methods and teaching materials and how teachers organise their teaching. Hence research on how the teachers and schools cope with the diversity of students is needed. Our aim is to focus on a positive learning context and an engaged and experienced teacher who has children with special needs in her classroom. We found "Ruth" to be such a teacher, and we describe what she does to achieve positive academic and social outcomes for all students in the classroom, and especially how she handles a boy with impulsive and uncontrolled behaviour.

Theoretical framework

To understand what Ruth does to provide an appropriate and inclusive education for her pupils, we need relevant theories. In accordance with a holistic and transactional approach, we have chosen the theoretical framework based on the works of Vygotsky and Bakhtin. The traditions of Vygotsky and his successors is often referred to as the sociocultural approach because it emphasises how social and cultural influences affect children's learning and development. The focus is thus on the relationship between cognition and culture. According to this view, our knowledge of the world and the development of higher mental functions are mediated by our interaction with the material world and other human beings. Our actions, including our mental functions, are therefore a fundamental theoretical concept in this theory (Wertsch 1998). Higher forms of behaviour or higher mental functions are not only biological factors, they are also profound social and historical phenomena. The terms socio-historical and cultural-historical are therefore used interchangeably with sociocultural theory. Social interaction is thus important for understanding the development of the higher mental functions. All higher mental functions, such as thinking, reflecting, reasoning and problem solving are originally social processes, and the development of these functions first occurs in social contexts; on the intermental plane. Thereafter they become part of the human internal level; on the child's intramental plane. This process of internalisation is often called appropriation because it is an active process. It is not a transfer of an external activity to an internal plane, but rather a process through which the internal plane is formed (Leont'ev 1981).

A critical aspect of the development of higher mental functions is mediation by tools and signs, called mediated action (Wertsch 1998). The more general concept of "artefact" is now often used instead of referring to mediating through tools and signs. Artefacts are simultaneously ideal and material, and they are products of the social and cultural history of human beings (Cole 1996). Sign systems, especially language, are considered to be the most important means of mediating and regulating human behaviour. Vygotsky (1987) argued for the inherent interconnection between the communicative and intellectual functions of speech. The purpose of speech is thus both to communicate and to regulate one's own thoughts and behaviours. The relationship between thinking and speech is also based on the development of concepts. Word meanings or concepts represent a continuous development from "unorganised heaps" to "complexes" and then to "concepts". Genuine or "scientific" concepts are learned as a result of schooling and they are important for the development of higher mental processes.

Schooling is therefore an essential aspect in the understanding of children's learning and development. In this connection Vygotsky (1978) emphasised that it was important to understand the relationship between learning and development which are neither separate nor identical processes, rather they are combined in a complex way. According to Vygotsky, teaching/learning processes play a major role in development, because learning leads to development. He was interested in collaboration between adults and children and how this interaction can explain children's learning and development. To study how children's social interaction with more experienced members of their culture influence their development, Vygotsky introduced the notion of the "zone of proximal development" (ZPD). The ZPD is defined as the distance between the "actual development level as determined by independent problem solving and potential development as determined through problem solving under adult guidance or in collaboration with more capable peers" (Vygotsky, 1978, p.86). This concept makes a distinction between a child's performance in autonomous activities and its developmental capacities. The ZPD is thus a dynamic region of sensitivity in which the child's mental functions develop in a joint problem solving process with more skilled members of their culture.

To understand learning in the ZPD, three concepts are used to describe the learning situation and teaching within the child's ZPD: situation definition, intersubjectivity, and semiotic mediation. Situation definition refers to the way in which the participants represent or define the context or setting. Intersubjectivity occurs when the participants are aware that they share the same situation definition. This creates a common ground for communication. However, intersubjectivity can exist at different levels. The participants have to negotiate to create an intersubjective situation definition. This negotiation is mediated by tools and signs, especially language, and is called semiotic mediation (Wertsch 1984).

As a child's cognitive development occurs through participation in activities slightly beyond its competence, the task of the more skilled person is to structure and model the learning situation. Contemporary interpretations of Vygotskian theory use the concepts of "scaffolding" (Wood, Bruner & Ross, 1976) and "guided participation" (Rogoff, 1990) when referring to how a child learns in the ZPD. Tharp and Gallimore (1988) suggest six ways of assisting learners through the ZPDs: (1) modelling the performance of the task, (2) contingency management by focusing on positive rewards, (3) providing feeding-back by giving information on performance, (4) instructing in a way that assists the learner's performance, (5) questioning by using both assessment and assistance questions, and (6) cognitive structuring by submitting information and suggesting strategies for how to solve the problem. Both adult and child are active and responsible in the learning activities, the child participating at a comfortable but slightly challenging level. As the child's expertise grows, it takes on more and more responsibility for managing the tasks and gradually comes to perform the task alone. The development in the ZPD is thus from other-regulation to self-regulation.

Self-regulation is seen as an important aspect in both children's cognitive and social development. Metacognition is a concept that is used to describe children's capacity to use self-regulation in planning, guiding and monitoring their activities (from within and) in a flexible way according to changing circumstances. The affective, motivational and volitional side of learning and problem solving are also important when considering the metacognitive aspect (Brown 1987, Schunk & Zimmerman 1994). Through the active use of signs, and especially language, children also gain mastery over their own external behaviour and social interactions. By using speech, the children's actions become less impulsive and allow for a growing mastery of their own behaviour (Díaz, Neal & Amaya-Williams 1990, Vygotsky 1978).

As self-regulation also refers to how children master social situations, this theory has focused on children with behavioural problems, especially children who show inattention and impulsiveness (Berk & Winsler 1995, Meichenbaum 1977). Berk and Winsler contend that it is the quality of social interactions and adults scaffolding that is important when children learn to gain mastery over their behaviour. Because the behaviour of impulsive children is less self-regulated and organised than their peers without behavioural problems, most of them require external control and limit-setting. However, what is needed is scaffolded assistance within the zone of proximal development. To help a child to overcome his or her self-regulatory difficulties we need a gradual transfer of responsibility from the adult to the child. Praise, encouragement and positive feedback also improve behaviour.

Another aspect with respect to how children master their behaviour and social interactions is connected to the concepts of schemata and scripts. Schemata are said to constitute a knowledge structure used to store our knowledge about the world in an abstract form. A script is one type of schemata representing our knowledge about social activities (Schank & Abelson 1977). According to Nelson (1981), young children's scripts develop in interaction with adults. Initially the children participate in social events that are highly structured for them by adults. They are thus operating in the adults' scripts and subordinated to the control of others. Children learn from recurrent events how to behave within different social contexts, for instance at school or at a restaurant. Gradually it is expected that the children increase their responsibility and learn to regulate their own behaviour in different social situations.

Each context has its own norms and rules of behaviour, and in the context of school, the children must know what is expected of them in different situations and places in the classroom and during breaks and recess. The pupils must be able to relate to these rules and norms if their schooling is to function in a satisfactory way (Doyle 1986). In the interaction with others, the use of language and the understanding of the discourse are therefore important aspects when it comes to creating good conditions for learning in the school and the classroom. In the same way as Vygotsky, Bakhtin was concerned with the relationship between language and human development, and they shared many of the fundamental views. An important question for Bakhtin was how meaning and understanding are created. Bakhtin claimed that self-consciousness is only achieved in interaction and communication with other people, hence "dialogue" is a central concept in his work. The transfer of information does not lead to understanding. There has to be a dialogic exchange, and the response from the other creates the basis for understanding. Understanding and response are dialectically merged and are mutually dependent on each other. Meaning is constructed between the dialogue partners. Understanding is thus an active and responsive process which never ends, and it is in the meeting and negotiation between the communication partners that meaning is created, a meaning that might be different from what they had before (Bakhtin 1981).

In his analysis of language, Bakhtin (1986) considered the utterance as a basic form of verbal communication. The length of the utterance varies from a single word or a short phrase to a long text, and it is the exchange between the speakers that determines the boundaries of an utterance. Utterances may be oral or written, and Bakhtin also considered inner speech or thoughts to be dialogic in nature. An utterance is always directed at someone, but a vital point is that any utterance is always a response to both previous and to coming utterances and is thus a link in a communication chain. Thus it is said that any utterance is filled with what is called "dialogic overtones". An utterance is therefore connected to the concept of voice, or the "talking personality, the speaking consciousness" (Holquist & Emerson 1981, p. 434). In addition to the voice producing an utterance, it is formed by the person it is directed at, and it also carries the voices of anyone previously involved. Each utterance thus comprises at least two voices.

Bakhtin did not ignore the individual aspect of the utterance, but he focused more on the social and the interactive aspects. Voices always exist in a social environment, never in isolation. Because of this, Bakhtin was concerned with the concepts of "social language" and "speech genres". Social language is related to the social stratum of the speakers. Speech genres are characterised by the typical situations and contexts of the speech communication, such as everyday genres of greetings, farewell and congratulation; conversations about different topics in different situations; intimate conversations among friends; and military commands. However, social language and speech genres are often thoroughly intertwined. According to Bakhtin (1986), our utterances always entail the use of speech genres, and bearing this in mind it is very important to master different speech genres. Hence, in a school situation it is important that the pupils learn to master the different speech genres which arise in different situations in life.

Speech genres also include an expressive intonation and not only a topic or theme. Each utterance is also characterised by "the speaker's subjective emotional evaluation of the referentially semantic content" (Bakhtin 1986, p. 84). A neutral utterance is impossible. For instance, when the teacher says "Good for you!" this may express praise or criticism. The meaning or intention is interpreted in the context of the particularly utterance. Bakhtin (1986) was also concerned with intimate genres which are based on internal proximity between persons in communication. These genres create an atmosphere of deep trust and sympathy. Bakhtin's view on how we communicate and how we understand ourselves through the voices of other people is, needless to say, relevant in the relationship between students and teachers in a school setting. In a dialogic interaction, having trust and respect for other people is essential. A good and positive communication situation can lead to trust in ourselves as well as trust in others.

Even if Bakhtin defined an utterance as dialogic in nature, he was also addressed the issue of monologues. In his analysis of the differences between monologue and dialogue, he distinguished between the "authoritative" and the "internally persuasive" discourse. The meaning of an utterance in an authoritative discourse is fixed and transferred, and it is impossible to come in contact with other voices and social languages. Authoritative discourses may aquire their authority from official authorities, or people endowed with authority, such as a teacher. In contrast to the authoritative discourse, the internally-persuasive discourse is dialogic in nature.


Data collection and research context. We started our project by observing five different classrooms in a Norwegian town. The teachers we observed were recommended by several people. They all had children with special needs in their classrooms. After some reflections, we decided to invite Ruth to be our collaborator. She had twenty years experience as a teacher. Ruth was teaching a class of 23 seventh-grade students, among whom were three students with special needs who were her biggest challenge. In this paper we will focus on one of these students, "Jon". We joined Ruth and her class from the beginning of November to early March. Data collection was by means of observations, video recordings and interviews. The data base comprises 39 pages of observation notes. The interviews with Ruth were audiotaped to ensure that we had the teacher's exact words, and this comprises 71 pages. Part of the video recordings were also transcribed verbatime. Furthermore, the material includes the year plan for the two seventh-grades and the weekly plans for the two classes. When observing, we focused on Ruth's interactions and communication with her pupils, but also on Jon's behaviour.

Jon had many problems to cope with, both at school and in his spare time. At school, his most striking problem was his emotional and behavioural difficulties (EBD). His uncontrolled behaviour resulted in severe interaction problems with other people. Jon had also some learning difficulties. His academic problems were especially related to mathematics and grammar, but Ruth believed that this might be a result of his lack of concentration.

The school we joined was an open school with two parallel classes in the same area. In the other seventh-grade class there were also students with special needs. The two classes had two assistants, a special education teacher, and occasionally a support teacher joined the class. The special education teacher was engaged full time, and she was also teaching music and arts and craft. They were all collaborating well, and in many ways the two classes functioned as one. For instance, the special education teacher was also engaged in the team work of the two seventh-grade classes. All the teachers took responsibility for the students in the two classes. The special needs resources were used in a flexible way, and all the children in the area shared by the two classes could receive assistance if they needed it. Sometimes one of the children or a group of children would have the opportunity to work in group-rooms close to the classroom area if this was felt to be an effective way to undertake the teaching.

The two classes also followed the same routines. Each day started with a morning assembly at what they called "the listening corner". The pupils faced Ruth and a blackboard, and ordinarily she introduced the topics they were going to work on during the next two hours. The "listening corner" was always used when new material was introduced. Later, the students would return to their permanent group consisting of both boys and girls to work. There were also clear rules of and procedure for behaviour and conduct, for instance in "the listening corner" and when the pupils were working in the classroom area, but these might vary. For example, in the "listening corner" the pupils were supposed to raise their hands when they wanted to speak. Because Jon did not manage to sit quietly in the "listening corner", Ruth was currently testing how it worked when he was sitting in a slightly secluded position in "the listening corner", while he was also part of the rest of the class. This appeared to work well. However, the establishment of clear routines ensured that each day was straightforward and predictable, and the atmosphere in the classroom area seemed to be positive and trustworthy.

Analytic categories. The initial data analysis was undertaken shortly after each observation and video recording. We discussed what we had seen and used this as the basis for the interviews. To understand what is going on in a classroom, reflections based on theory are necessary when analysing the findings. Central to this study are factors that influence learning. The main analytic categories are: "Cognitive-learning processes" and "Social-learning processes". Cognitive learning processes examines how Ruth scaffolds and assists the students in learning tasks, social learning processes focuses on the way Ruth structures the setting to facilitate positive social interactions, and especially for the boy with uncontrolled behaviour. Important concepts in this connection are trust, scaffolding, other-regulation, and self-regulation.

Illustrations taken from classroom practice

The episodes that we chose to analyse are divided into three sequences. The first two are taken from the start of the first period of the day. Mathematics is scheduled for the first period and the topic is calculating the area of a parallelogram and a triangle. Ruth has had a leave of absence from school for a few days so that another teacher has taught the pupils how to calculate the area of a parallelogram. Nevertheless, the teachers at this level have decided to review the topic and ensure that the pupils understand what to do.

Before the bell goes for the start of the first period Ruth enters the classroom and draws a parallelogram on the left-hand side of the blackboard, with the baseline twice as long as the height. She writes 4 cm at the baseline and 2 cm at the height, and she also puts in dots indicating the height on both sides of the parallelogram so that the diagram, with the dots, appears to be a rectangle. Then she draws a triangle on the right side of the blackboard, where the baseline is one third larger than its height, putting in 3 cm at the baseline and 2 cm at the height. The pupils begin to arrive, and when they are all gathered in the listening corner, Ruth starts by greeting them. She explains why she has been absent from school, and she also provides some information and comments on what has happened while she was away. Then she shifts to mathematics and the topic of the day. Jon comments that this was so easy he does not need to pay attention. Ruth responds that she and the other teachers felt that this task was so difficult that they should start the day by reviewing it again. She then asks for the name of the diagram on the left. Ruth comments that she cannot see Jon's hand, reminding him that he himself claimed to be so good that he would not need to sit in on the review. She asks Jon if he knows the name of the diagram, but he is unable to answer. She then mentions that they have looked at squares and rectangles before, and then asks Jon again:

First sequence (3 minutes and 54 seconds)

(1) Ruth: What's the name of that square there?

(2) Jon: Oh, that slanted square there? It had this really difficult name, like.

(3) Ruth: You're right, so perhaps it wouldn't be such a bad idea to do a little something with this every day, and come together and review what we've learnt. There might be many things to remember, so I'm not surprised that you can't recall. But I think it's a good idea that we review fairly often. My aim is that everybody will be able to raise their hands when I ask this question, and so far we don't have many hands. What's the name of the diagram? Robert?

(4) Robert: Par-a-llel...parallelogram.

(5) Ruth: Parallelogram (mouths it slowly and carefully). Yes, and we have to make sure we don't trip over our tongues when we say it. I think we have to write it out again (rises and writes out the word parallelogram on the board above the figure of the parallelogram while repeating the word). And we have three l's.

(6) Jon: Three l's (speaks without putting up his hand).

(7) Ruth: (Sits down) Parallelogram (speaks clearly). That's the name of that diagram there. And when (looks at Jon saying "Jon" softly, because he is restless) we want to calculate the area of that parallelogram - what do we do then? (looks around).

(8) Jens: How do we calculate the surface?

(9) Ruth: Yes, the area. The surface or the area being the same, we know that ... When calculating the area of a rectangle, then we took the length of one side and multiplied it by the length of the other (speaking slowly and clearly and pointing to the parallelogram). You managed this wonderfully before I had this leave of mine. But what do we do with a parallelogram? Mona?

(10) Mona: You want me to say the numbers or what we should multiply?

(11) Ruth: You can say what we multiply so we have the, let's call it recipe.

(12) Mona: Height times the baseline.

(13) Ruth: Yes (rises, pointing to the baseline). What is this? What do we call this thing here?

(14) Jon: Did she say it? (speaks without raising his hand).

(15) Ruth: Let's say that again because not everybody could hear. She answered quite correctly. But now let's hear others say it again. Hanne?

(16) Hanne: Baseline.

(17) Ruth: It is called the baseline, and this is four (writes b = in front of 4 cm on the figure, so that now it says b = 4 cm). And then Mona said that we should multiply this baseline by this other thing (points to the line for the height) which she called? Tone?

(18) Tone: The height.

(19) Ruth: She called it the height and it is 2 cm (writes h = in front of 2 cm on the figure, so it now says h = 2 cm). So what is the multiplication then? Now I'm asking again and again. I can see this is necessary because I am not seeing as many hands as I would like. Trude?

(20) Trude: A parallelogram is height times the baseline.

(21) Ruth: Right, and in this case we have? (points to the parallelogram).

(22) Trude: 2 times 4.

(23) Ruth: Yes. 2 times 4 (writes it on the board as a calculation). And that is? 2 times 4? Lars?

(24) Lars: That makes 8.

(25) Ruth: That makes 8 (writes the calculation on the board). Then we have the answer in full: The area is 8 cm² (writes this on the board with a double underline under the sentence). So this is the recipe (sits down). We call this a formula (speaks clearly). That's the same as a recipe. You know how we have baking recipes - telling us how to bake a cake. So this is the recipe telling us how to calculate all problems that involve parallelograms. You named it so well, didn't you, Jon. The slanted square. And in a way that's exactly what it is (rises and points to the parallelogram). So if we imagine that we shift it back, then it would be like a rectangle and then it would be precisely the length times the height of that too. So I think that was well put - a slanted square. But then we call this the baseline (points), and this we call its height (points). Then we take the baseline times the height.

Ruth concludes by emphasising the importance of being able to use this formula. Then she draws another parallelogram on the board, with a baseline of 7 cm and a height of 3 cm. She tells the pupils that the measurements do not quite agree with the diagram she is drawing. In dialogue with the pupils they review again how to calculate the area of this parallelogram. Afterwards, Ruth tells them that they will move on to review how to calculate the area of the triangle which they studied last year. Going to the triangle on the board, she points at it and explains that they can compare a triangle with a rectangle. Jon again says something without raising his hand, and then he says that he knows that the baseline should be multiplied by the height, and that based on the diagram drawn on the board this will be 3 times 2. He also knows that this must be divided by a number, but he does not quite know which number, and makes a somewhat confusing proposal. The second sequence commences approximately four minutes after the first one.

The second sequence (55 seconds)

(26) Ruth: I think you should have kept to the first attempt, but ...

(27) Jon: 3 times 2 then.

(28) Ruth: We can ...

(29) Jon: (Interrupting and repeating) 3 times 2.

(30) Ruth: Yes. Will you find the area then?

(31) Jon: No.

(32) Ruth: No. What more do you need to do?

(33) Jon: Divide.

(34) Ruth: Right, and tell me the rest....

(35) Jon: No, I can't remember.

(36) Ruth: You're thinking of the right thing. Perhaps we should ask some of the others too? Mona?

(37) Mona: A triangle is one half of a rectangle.

(38) Ruth: Wonderful! (whispers slowly and enthusiastically). Could you hear what she said? This is exactly what we found last year. And then I can dot this in so you can see it. We only extend ... (produces dots from the original triangle which has been drawn, making it into a square) ... So we imagine we have some invisible lines here ... Like that. Now can you see that the triangle is half of a rectangle? (points) ... And if we had stopped there ... (addressing Jon). What you said first, Jon. I could see that you really knew this.

Ruth reminds the pupils that the triangle has been studied at the end of the last school year, and that perhaps they had not been able to adequately practise how to calculate the area of a triangle. Thus it was necessary to study both parallelograms and triangles. Ruth eventually draws two new triangles on the board, and she also rubs "parallelogram", what she had previously written above the diagram (5), off the board. In the dialogue with the pupils she systematically and thoroughly reviews how to calculate the area of triangles. When reviewing triangles, the pupils are repeatedly encouraged to go to the board and write their answer, and Ruth also asks the pupils to explain what they are doing. Just before the pupils are to return to their regular seats, Ruth asks them what the name of the slanted square is again, as she has taken the name off the board on purpose. She does this because many pupils find it hard to remember and say this difficult word "parallelogram", and she wants everybody to learn and remember the name of the diagram. Many pupils raise their hands, and are able to say the name "parallelogram". After this the pupils return to their respective groups and start working on their assignments.

The third sequence is taken from the start of the next period, after the pupils have had their break, and when they again are assembled in the listening corner. Seeing that some of the pupils are a little tardy, Ruth starts by telling them how important it is that they find their places in the listening corner in time, and how they need to work on this. Before starting up English and Geography as scheduled, she offers another observation:

Third sequence (1 minute and 39 seconds)

(39) Ruth: By the way, I received a very nice comment during the break. Somebody told me that "Oh, so nice, because now mathematics really became clear to me". I hope more of you feel like that. Once again: What is the name of that figure? A square which has been shifted so it's slanted, as it were. You really should be thinking about this each time I ask you, to see if more people join us each time. Now let's count. Raise your hand all those of you who know (Ruth counts, arriving at 16). Sixteen of you know. Now I'll ask again: What is the name of this kind of diagram? (looks around). Now I can't remember who was the last person to be asked. Tor?

(40) Tor: A parallelogram.

(41) Ruth: A parallelogram, right. (One boy says "Wow!"). I hope it'll be more than sixteen by the time we finish today. I think I'll ask questions about this during the next session. Parallelogram. How do we find the area of a parallelogram? Mona?

(42) Mona: The baseline times the height.

(43) Ruth: Exactly! (Enthusiastically). And if we have a triangle, then? How do we find the area then? (looks around). Jon?

(44) Jon: Multiply the baseline by the height and divide by two.

(45) Ruth: Bravo! (nods happily). Then we've got it.

Ruth then starts the topic that is on the board. She tells the pupils how they should go about doing their homework. She urges the pupils to support and help each other, for example by phoning each other or lending each other books. They should also ask their parents for assistance if they need information about the tasks they are working on. Then she focuses on English. The subject in question is irregular verbs in the past tense. This is difficult for Jon, and he exclaims, without raising his hand, that he cannot get this right, and thus he needs assistance. Ruth reminds him that he needs to remember to raise his hand and follow the rules in the listening corner.

Interpretation of the cognitive learning processes. In the interpretation of these three teaching sequences we can see a continuous interplay between Ruth and the pupils. According to Bakhtin (1986), each utterance is a link in a communication chain, and meaning and understanding emerge from the dialogue and the interaction between the interlocutors. Understanding is not passively transmitted from sender to receiver. Whoever receives a message must also offer some sort of response, and it may be that new understandings are created in dialogic tensions and confrontations.

The interactions described here clearly illustrates how each utterance is a link in a communication chain. The pupils take turns giving responses or feedback when Ruth asks a question. She even gets a positive response during the break (39). Ruth also continually gives responses to pupil utterances, for example by repeating or elaborating on what the pupils say. All of this indicates that the pupils develop understanding of how to calculate area. Jon also acquires new understanding of how to calculate the area of a triangle (44). This learning appears to be created in the dialogic interaction which continues between Ruth and the pupils, but particularly in the interaction between Ruth and Jon, and when Mona responds (26-38). In this case we can see that Jon does not know how to calculate the area of a triangle, and there appears to be a dialogic tension between Ruth and Jon. What has occurred in the interplay between Ruth, her pupils and Jon on the intermental plane appears to have been internalised and thus has become part of Jon's intramental functions. This type of teaching situation, where the pupils are to learn mathematical skills, could easily have become more like a pure instruction session with a more monologic than dialogic form of expression. However, Ruth is deeply convinced that learning is not merely the passive transfer of knowledge, and she believes that in a teaching situation there must be a dialogue, and that she must respond to what the pupils say.

Utterances do not only have a thematic content, they also have an expressive element which encompasses the subjective and emotional aspects of the utterances, and which joins in determining the understanding and meaning of the utterance (Bakhtin 1986). The intonation or tone of an utterance indicates how utterances can be interpreted and understood. Moreover, the expressiveness of the utterance is determined by the typical situation one is in and the linguistic genre that is opted for in this situation. Ruth has a positive form of expression in her interaction with her pupils in the listening corner. We can see this when she says "Wonderful!" (38), "Exactly!" (43) and "Bravo!" (45) in an enthusiastic manner. We also see that she is deeply aware of the way she expresses herself in teaching situations. She always shows respect for her pupils and what they say. This is clearly instantiated in her interactions with Jon. She does not give him a negative response when it turns out that he has not adequately mastered the material they are reviewing. Rather she focuses on what may be perceived as correct and good in Jon's utterances (25, 26, 36, 38). Her expressiveness and respect for her pupils may thus create a positive ambience and trust.

Like Bakhtin, Vygotsky was interested in the importance of language, and he considered language to be an instrument for the development of higher mental functions. The fact that children eventually develop concepts is an important aspect of their development. In the episodes described here, Ruth employs language in the teaching of mathematics. The pupils are to learn what "parallelogram" and "triangle" actually mean. She examines this systematically, and also employs other tools by drawing the diagrams they are to learn on the board. As the word "parallelogram" is difficult to remember, she keeps repeating the word in a clear manner (5, 7, 41), also writing the word on the board (5). Some of the pupils also repeat the word out loud (4, 20, 40). Both the word "parallelogram" and the procedure for calculating area are repeated during the next period, even though Geography and English are scheduled. She does this so that they will remember what these things mean.

According to Vygotsky, good teaching anticipates the development of the child; in the child's zone of proximal development. With the help and support of others a child may be able to attain more than it could do on its own. If this is to happen, the teacher and the pupil must have a common situation definition (Wertsch 1984). Ruth initiates this process by always writing on the board what they should bring with them to the listening corner, and usually she will give an overview of what will happen during the period. Ruth provides the common situation definition not only by clarifying what will happen, but also by remaining aware that she must base her teaching on things the pupils understand. At the same time, she is also aware that if the pupils are to learn and develop, she must contribute something. According to Ruth this can be accomplished in various ways. A case in point is how she is always focused on arousing pupil motivation. Ruth also realises the importance of structuring material for pupils in a way that will facilitate pupil understanding.

We see this clearly in the episodes used to illustrate what Ruth does in a teaching situation. She emphasises the important points when they are learning the word "parallelogram" and how they should calculate the areas of the diagrams they are studying, and she manages to maintain pupils interest. She does this to support her pupils in a positive way. For example, Ruth models how to say parallelogram (5, 7, 41), and how to draw the diagrams they are studying. She also has some pupils function as models for the other pupils, as for example when Robert says: "Parallelogram" (4), and Mona says: "Height times the baseline" (12). Ruth also assists uses contingency management to assist her pupils. She offers distinct praise when the pupils demonstrate that they master an assignment (38, 43, 45). When she encourages the pupils, this is often related to feedback. This may help create a more positive atmosphere in the classroom. The pupils receive response or feedback on things they have said or done. The feedback given to Jon by Ruth is given in an encouraging manner. As mentioned earlier on the interpretation of the illustrations based on Bakhtin's theory, she focuses on what may be perceived as correct and good about Jon's utterances (25, 26, 36, 38). All this can be related to how Tharp and Gallimore (1988) analyse scaffolding.

In the teaching situations described here Ruth also assists by means of instruction. A reasonable manner of using instruction is linking it to questions and cognitive structuring (Tharp & Gallimore 1988). Ruth frequently uses assessment questions to arrive at the knowledge the pupils have, thus ensuring that the pupils are the ones to provide the information. Ruth also employs assistance questions which require reflection. This is the type of question she poses in the interaction with Jon when he does not know how to calculate the area of the triangle (30, 32). Ruth also tells her pupils how to calculate the area of a rectangle, and then asks them how they would find the area of a parallelogram (9). This may be linked to cognitive structuring. According to Tharp and Gallimore children may become aware of their own knowledge and how to proceed to solve a problem by means of assistance. Ruth allows the pupils to use the knowledge they have, thus enabling them to reflect on the strategy or procedure they could use to calculate the area of a parallelogram. After having instructed the pupils in how to write the area of a parallelogram in a full sentence answer (25), she also tells them that this is a type of "recipe" that they may apply. Ruth also links the triangle to the rectangle by using dots as invisible lines (38). She does this for them so they will understand why baseline multiplied by height must be divided by two when calculating the area. This is a way of cognitive structuring.

Cognitive structuring is connected to the concept of metacognition and how a person can use knowledge and control of his or her own cognition to monitor, control and regulate his or her own cognitive processes. The development goes from other-regulation to self-regulation (Tharp & Gallimore 1988, Vygotsky 1978). A combination of other-regulation and self-regulation may also represent effective assistance when children learn and develop. Ruth's aim is that the pupils will eventually master what they study in the listening corner. However, Ruth is also well aware that reviewing new topics systematically in the listening corner is not enough on its own. The pupils must be active and have the opportunity for self-regulating. Development from other-regulation to self-regulation means that initially the teacher will have most control, but gradually the child will assume more and more responsibility. Ruth ensures that the pupils will be allowed to be active and independent, while she also ensures that the pupils will receive help and support when they need it. Both Jon and the other pupils in the class appear to benefit academically from the teaching.

Ruth nevertheless does not only focus on Jon's learning problems, but underlines how he also has positive features in this area. His achievements may also vary. She attempts to understand why he has these particular difficulties, being very aware that he needs to receive assistance to tackle the academic problems he encounters. However, Jon is aware of his problems, and is focused on trying to master academic tasks. The fact that Jon is aware of his weaknesses is shown in the interaction which is described above. He admits that he cannot remember the number to use for division when calculating the area of the triangle (35), and that he has difficulties with English grammar. The fact that he finally managed to calculate the area of the triangle (44) probably made him happy and satisfied. Ruth aims to bolster his self-confidence, and if he succeeds better academically, she hopes that this will lead to enhanced self-confidence and a positive development.

Interpretation of the social learning processes. The interaction between Ruth and Jon shows that Jon has difficulties complying with the rules in the "listening corner". In the listening corner, for example, they are supposed to raise their hand when they want to speak. Jon does not always manage to observe the rules in the listening corner by raising his hand when he wishes to speak (6, 14). However, the difficulties in the listening corner do not constitute the greatest challenge. Jon has major interaction or social problems, and these emerge in various ways. The pupils find it difficult to work with him, but at the same time they don't want to reject him. Jon has no friends in the class.

Jon has much to learn if he is to be able to master social situations and develop his social skills. Children should not only learn to control and regulate their own thinking activities in order to experience academic or cognitive development, they are also supposed to learn to control and regulate their behaviour so that they are able to master complex social situations (Díaz et al. 1990). Self-regulation is thus an important aspect of the development of both cognitive and social skills. When growing up, children are initially controlled and directed by adults, but gradually they are expected to assume more responsibility themselves (Nelson 1981). Ruth knows that Jon needs limits and clear rules and routines. An agreement has been made with Jon that in the event there is too much unrest and disruption, he should leave the room with an assistant or a teacher to continue to work, for example, in the corridor or in the group room. This is accepted by Jon, and he understands that he should follow these rules.

The dialogue between Ruth and Jon may indicate that they have good contact, and that their relationship is one of openness and trust. This is confirmed by Ruth. New meaning and understanding emerge in the dialogue and interplay between the interlocutors, and in a dialogic interaction trust between the dialogue partners is essential (Bakhtin 1986). If Jon acquires an understanding of his interaction problems and learns to control his own behaviour, this will be the basis for a positive social development. Ruth is very concerned with what can be done to help Jon gain a better understanding of his social interaction problems. One aspect which is repeatedly emphasised by Ruth is that developing empathy and the ability to see the perspective of others may help to improve Jon's interaction problems. However, he has difficulties with this.

In order to develop Jon's understanding of his social problems, Ruth regularly confronts Jon with unfortunate episodes he has been involved in. She has also repeatedly attempted to initiate a dialogue between the involved persons. However, this has not always been so easy. Ruth realises that the conflicts which crop up between Jon and other pupils are bad for all of them, and that she must attempt to protect them all. Ruth nevertheless feels it is important to be open about the conflicts that occur in the class, and that each and every one is allowed to raise issues and discuss why things go wrong.

It is important that children interact with other persons in a reasonable and meaningful way (Vygotsky 1993). A child may enter a negative circle because it develops poor self-esteem and a sense of inferiority. Ruth also sees Jon's positive aspects, and she thus wants him to be able to build up his self-image, as this may possibly lead to positive development. As mentioned under the interpretation of the cognitive learning processes, Jon is focused on mastering the academic requirements, and Ruth believes that if he masters the academic challenges he may improve his self-confidence. But not least, she realises that mastering the social challenges will have impact on his self-perception.

Ruth's striving to help and support Jon so that he can improve his mastery of social interaction may also be interpreted with Tharp and Gallimore's (1988) outline of scaffolding in mind. In the episodes used as illustrations, Ruth is a good model for how the pupils should behave, and how, through using language, they may master the speech genre in the listening corner. Ruth also gives response to what Jon says and to his conduct. Similarly she instructs Jon after the third sequence which was described, telling him that he must follow the rules for the listening corner by raising his hand. However, she does this in a flexible way so that the instruction does not become too authoritarian. Ruth does not instruct Jon each time he forgets to raise his hand. According to Tharp and Gallimore the instructing teacher voice may eventually become the child's own voice. The development will then be from other-regulation to self-regulation. Ruth also assists by means of contingency management. As mentioned above, Jon is punished only in the sense that he knows he must accept the consequences of his restlessness and leave the classroom if constant and major problems occur. However, Ruth also focuses on giving him praise and encouragement. Even though praise and encouragement may contribute to creating a positive atmosphere, she also realises, as mentioned above, how important mastery is. Thus it is very important that Jon succeeds in the interactions with others. Ruth also mentions that Jon is being trained to think strategically and structure his day, allowing him better mastery of his day-to-day life. This may be linked to cognitive structuring.

Even though Ruth attempts to assist and support Jon, she is not satisfied with his social development. She intends to continue the same procedures or strategies she is already applying. Ruth is also open to adopting new strategies to help Jon, but she feels that she needs to reflect on what should be and can be done. Moreover, Ruth considers Jon's development in a long-term perspective, and she knows the importance of including Jon not only in the day-to-day life of school, but also that he should master the everyday issues of life in society outside school and be socially included.


In accordance with the ideology of inclusion, all children are entitled to receive a differentiated and appropriate education in ordinary classrooms adapted to their learning characteristics. This requires the teacher to understand how children learn and develop. Teachers need to be familiar with the child's actual development level, while also being able to stimulate the child's development potentials. Scaffolding, or assistance, in the zone of proximal development is based on collaboration between the child and the more capable other, and the teacher must be able to adopt various ways of providing support and assistance. The teacher must also be aware of when not to give assistance, remembering that the child is to take over more and more responsibility so that it can develop from other-regulation to self-regulation. For this to occur the child must be active in the learning situation.

The interpretation of the cognitive learning processes especially showed that Ruth was very aware of how children learn and develop in the zone of proximal development, and she varied the ways in which she offered assistance and support. For instance, she was assisting the pupils by modelling and structuring the performance of the task, arousing the motivation of the pupils, and giving positive feedback. However, she was also aware that the pupils themselves must be active and thus assume a growing degree of responsibility. In addition to being a skilled educator, she also had good insight into the subject matter. All of this indicated that the pupils developed understanding of how to calculate the area of a parallelogram and a triangle, and thus they improved their mathematical skills.

A good environment for learning and development is when children feel secure and are treated with respect, tolerance and care. Through her way of expressing herself and her way of acting, it appeared that Ruth facilitated a positive learning environment which showed all the signs of trust between Ruth and her pupils. Moreover, she remained in a dialogue with the pupils. By clearly showing her attitudes and expressing her opinions and ideas, she was also a good model for her pupils. This emerged in the interaction with Jon. Even though the pupils found it difficult to collaborate with him, they did not reject him. If children are to experience development as persons, and show respect, tolerance and care for others, it is essential that they should encounter these values in their interaction with other persons both at home and at school. This is in line with Vygotsky's theory of internalisation and how intermental processes eventually become part of the child's consciousness on the intramental level.

However, the quality of special education does not only refer to teaching methods and the teaching of subject material. Holistically oriented special education also means thinking in terms of the long run. Day-to-day life in general society must be mastered. Thus programmes must be adapted to needs to ensure social participation and a good quality of life (Stangvik, Rønbeck & Simonsen 1998). Ruth was very focused on the need to have long-term perspectives if her pupils were to learn how to master their day-to-day lives and be included in regular society. An important foundation for social inclusion is formed in school where the children spend time with other children and where they establish friendships. Jon, however, continued to experience problems with social interaction. This worried Ruth, also when considering his future.

Emotional and behaviour difficulties (EBD) or interaction problems are extremely relevant in the current school debate. Thus it is not only Ruth who finds pupils with interaction difficulties to be a major problem. In Flem and Keller's (2000) study the informants agreed that these pupils were a great challenge in general for the Norwegian school system. This corresponds to findings in other countries (Chazan 1993). Ogden's (1998) study of pupil behaviour and the learning environment in Norwegian primary school emphasised the importance of school having clear standards for positive behaviour in school, and that this is a matter that must be examined and discussed together with the pupils. There must also be good procedures for following up violations of school rules and norms. Seeing how a lack of aggression control and a lack of consideration of other pupils were obvious problems, Ogden emphasised the importance of pupils learning how to develop self-control, empathy and pro-social skills. Similarly there is a need for measures that may strengthen pupil skills in problem and conflict resolution. The teacher must, moreover, improve her skills and adopt relevant problem resolution methods when conflicts arise between pupils.

Ruth was focused on all the measures mentioned by Ogden. She was quite aware that Jon needed limit setting and clear rules and procedures, and that he needed to improve his social skills. Conflict resolution and the development of empathy, for example, were tested when Ruth repeatedly attempted to establish a dialogue between Jon and the pupils he came into conflict with. Ruth realised the importance of protecting the other pupils, while also supporting Jon. The aim was that all the pupils in the class would be content and experience the day-to-day life at school as something they enjoyed.

Thus it appears that what goes on in the classrooms and what teachers do to facilitate a good learning environment and adapted education for all are important factors if the inclusive school is to succeed. This may be compared to the theme of teaching and learning in the study by Clark, Dyson, Millward and Skidmore (1997), which examined typical traits of schools which were interested in innovation and the renewal of special education practices. For instance, what was typical of these schools was that the employees were interested in giving differentiated and appropriate education for all the pupils in the school. In their reflections on the inclusive school, Meijer and Stevens (1997) claim that teachers are key persons for facilitating adapted education, and that they determine the quality of the classroom environment. "The objective of integration" could thus reasonably be replaced with "the objective of developing good education" (p. 125). The importance of factors on the classroom level was also quite frequently underlined in Flem and Keller's (2000) study of the inclusive school.

Special education has been influenced by various ideologies and paradigms and may be understood in various ways (Skidmore 1997). In Norway, special education has been very closely connected to the psycho-medical paradigm, and changes in the Norwegian school system are necessary. Within the psycho-medical paradigm it is usual to emphasise individual diagnosis and treatment. The objective is to strengthen the weak sides of individuals to liberate them from their difficulties (Haug 1999). An alternative would be to develop the resources which exist both with respect to the pupil and the school. By facilitating versatile and positive learning, and avoiding the emphasis on only weak and negative aspects of the individual, new positive learning may result, which in turn may also diminish the negative aspects. Mastering is frequently a foundation for further learning (Befring 1997). One factor which was emphasised a number of times by Ruth was the importance of being aware of the positive aspects of the pupils. She was, for example, concerned with the positive aspects and characteristics of Jon, and she attempted to create a relationship based on trust and also to bolster his self-confidence. She was deeply aware of the importance of assisting and supporting Jon to enable him to succeed better academically and to gain skills in mastering social situations and thus experience positive interaction with others. Ruth facilitated Jon's optimal learning and development in a regular class context in his neighbourhood school.

The great degree of variation occurring in inclusive schools should rather be perceived as a positive incitement than as a problem. Individual variations are valuable and interesting. Befring (1997) calls this the "enrichment perspective". As today's school has only a small degree of differentiation with adapted education for all the pupils, the situation requires changes in the field of practice. In his visions for and reflections on the inclusive school, Wedell (1995) emphasises that the starting point must be the acceptance that all children are different. As the aim of the inclusive school is to consider the learning needs of all the children, differences must not be hidden and denied, they should rather be brought out into the open and be made visible. In a school striving to embrace the diversity and differences of children's learning needs, children with special needs will be a natural part of the diversity. If the school system is designed to embrace this diversity, children and young persons with social needs will not be left out and stigmatised.

Needless to say, such a school requires education skills and expertise. Teaching in a school which centres on differentiated education, and which makes allowances for individual variations among the pupils, requires teachers to develop their expertise. The class teacher has the main responsibility for facilitating differentiated education in the class, and in this context many researchers have focused on the education of general teachers. In order to tackle the great variation and diversity of the classroom, teacher education is considered as the first step to attain the realisation of an inclusive school (Meijer, Pijl & Hegarty 1997). The importance of general teacher education was also emphasised in Flem and Keller's (2000) study. However, a number of informants were worried that teacher education was inadequate. Haug (1996) calls for a fundamental debate about school and teacher education. He claims that student teachers acquire little insight into how to work with the great variation of primary school pupils. Thus the general pedagogy component must be strengthened in teacher education, and special education elements must become part of teacher education on all levels. Teacher education and the special education component must be coordinated. However, one must be aware that when removing the distinction between the two systems, special education may become invisible. This represents a danger.

Special education skills and expertise are, needless to say, also important components in today's school. In a school aiming to satisfy the needs of all the children, the teacher must receive both support and expert assistance. The type of expert assistance needed will vary according to the needs of the individual. To satisfy the child's individual needs, the teacher may require assistance and support from, for example, hearing and sight experts, speech therapists or physiotherapists (Wedell 1995). Special knowledge is a resource which teachers must be given access to (Befring 1997, Meijer et al. 1997).

The ideology of one school for all implies the inclusion of all the pupils in a social, academic and cultural community. School has responsibilities for all children and young persons. However, the realisation of this ideology is not without its problems. School has been given extended responsibilities and teachers face new requirements. Thus there are many challenges. It is not sufficient to place a pupil in his neighbourhood school and then assume that his needs will automatically be satisfied. In all probability there is a long way to go in order to find a satisfactory programme with respect to care, learning and quality of life. The development towards an inclusive school which can meet the needs of each and everyone of the pupils continues to be a challenge for which will have to strive very hard if we are to succeed.

The practice field should continually be developed and improved, and thus it is important that teachers should be able to reflect on their own practice. Positive studies that examine what good teachers do to succeed in facilitating teaching for all may therefore be useful for the practical implementation of the inclusive school. This study of Ruth and what she does to facilitate a good learning environment for all the pupils in her class is hopefully a positive and motivating contribution for teachers when they come to reflect on their own practice, and may also serve to raise their awareness of their own work on facilitating an inclusive community for all children and young persons in school.


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This document was added to the Education-line database on 24 October 2000