“Inclusion requires new ways of thinking and being that are open to ambiguity, and require porous boundaries in the daily intra-active encounters with difference.” Bronwyn Davies 
On the recommendation of a friend, I spent this morning listening to a lecture by Professor Bronwyn Davies at the Wilf Malcolm Institute of Educational Research at the University of Waikato . It was disruptive time – aka time well spent. The experience made me think about inclusive practices in new ways, especially when Davies argued that “inclusive practices can easily turn into coded structures that conserve, repeat and strengthen exclusion”.
Davies’ arguments make me think more deeply about how an educational policy or practice can be something more than it looks – something essentially darker than simply “sharing the same space and good intentions” .
If, as Davies describes, we are “a profession increasingly under pressure to be productive and to produce normative subjects who in turn will be economically productive, responsible and responsive to government norms” , then we might describe the New Zealand Practising Teacher Criteria  as a state-mandated means of exercising this pressure.
How does this understanding sit with the NZ Practising Teacher Criteria (PTC) #9?
PTC #9 asks us to “respond effectively to the diverse language and cultural experiences, and the varied strengths, interests and needs of individuals and groups of ākonga”. Key indicators include “teaching and assessment approaches that are inclusive for diverse ākonga” .
I started thinking about “inclusive practice” in the context of the Universal Design for Learning (UDL) – a framework for thinking about inclusion.
UDL is currently promoted in New Zealand education as a “good thing” and an answer to meeting expectations within PTC #9 . Indeed I have recently co-authored a book about using UDL and SOLO Taxonomy in learning support to build academic and social success .
UDL prompts teachers to think about:
- how students can access learning materials
- how teachers can design learning activities in adaptive and responsive ways, which start by putting the student at the centre of teaching and learning
Using UDL as a framework, we can look at how the curriculum can give every student equal access to opportunities to learn.
The three networks within the UDL framework are:
- recognition networks – how we present learning, “enabling access”
- strategic networks – how students express ideas, “enabling expression”
- affective networks – how we engage and motivate, “capturing attention”.
Although this framework appears promising and is popular with educators, I am also aware it is yet another educational approach that lacks research evidence about whether it has any effect on student learning. When we decide to implement UDL, we are making an educational leap of faith – we are sharing the same space with good intentions.
Given the lack of evidence on its application or effects on student performance, UDL cannot claim to be a scientifically validated intervention . A recent review of the literature on UDL frameworks  comes to a similarly worrying conclusion. Further than that, the critique identifies that the research literature also lacks any clear definition of what constitutes a UDL intervention. In other words, we do not know what it means and we do not know if it makes a difference. Until we can clarify what a UDL intervention is, we will continue to meet significant barriers to proving its efficacy.
“There can be little doubt that UD has made an appreciable difference in the lives of people with disabilities. Houses and other buildings that posed accessibility challenges for people with disabilities are now accessible because of the application of UD principles. Can the same be said when UD[L] is applied to curriculum and instruction, or is it simply an intuitive concept that has little real effect on students’ performance levels? Further research is needed to meaningfully address this critical question.” 
But listening to Davies’ lecture this morning has made me dig deeper than searching for simple claims over evidence of any performance advantage. It has prompted me to ask troubling questions over the extent to which inclusive practices like UDL “can easily turn into coded structures that conserve, repeat and strengthen exclusion”.
The lecture led me to ask to what extent:
- …is UDL a coded structure for a generic set of performative practices that exacerbate othering and exclusion?
- …does UDL represent a “citational chain” of abjection created by normative educators in response to difference and disability?
- …is UDL, with its focus on “assistive technologies” to increase access, expression or belonging, a model that helps perpetuate thinking that excludes those seen as diverse or different?
- …is UDL an escape hatch from “either/or” thinking for educators?
- …does UDL help educators re-imagine “inclusive practices” as being a Deleuzian “both … and”?
- …does UDL offer educators an affirmative, productive and innovative look at inclusive practices?
These questions have no easy answers. Through them, perhaps I will open up and escape my existing thinking enough to allow new ways of knowing the unknown unknowns – to find ways to answer what is not yet imagined, let alone asked. And that has to be a good thing.
Here’s to porous educational boundaries and leaking at the margins of teaching and learning.
 Davies, B. (2015). Normativity, abjection and Shildrick's monster. Lecture at Wilf Malcolm Institute of Educational Research, University of Waikato, Thursday 9 July 2015. URL: http://www.waikato.ac.nz/wmier/news-events/fascinating-second-lecture-by-bronwyn-davies
 Practising Teacher Criteria. Educational Council, New Zealand. URL: http://www.educationcouncil.org.nz/content/registered-teacher-criteria-1
 Butler, C. (2015). Universal Design for Learning. Core Education Ltd. URL: http://www.core-ed.org/thought-leadership/podcast/udl-universal-design-learning-101-3-principles-explained-part-1-4
 Hook, P., Saxton, R., and Hickman, R. (2015). SOLO Taxonomy in Learning Support. Building academic and social success. Essential Resources Educational Publishers Limited. New Zealand. https://essentialresources.co.nz/Products.aspx?SubjectID=0&SeriesID=SER5866
 Edyburn, D. (2010). Would you recognize Universal Design for Learning if you saw it? Ten propositions for new directions for the second decade of UDL. Learning Disability Quarterly, 33, pp. 33–41.
 Rao, K., Ok, M.W., and Bryant, B.R. (2014). A review of research on Universal Design educational models. Remedial and Special Education, 35(3), p. 153.
A "People and their 1000 words" post for the co-constructed #EdbookNZ project organised by Sonya Van Schaijik and being co-authored by a great set of New Zealand based educators for Connected Educator Month. The #CENZ15 book launch will be held on Friday 30th October 8.00pm-9.00pm (UT + 13 hrs)