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Title: The Case of the Disappearing/Appearing Slow Learner:An Interpretive Mystery
Author: Williamson, W. John
Advisor: Field, James Colin
Keywords: Education--Special
Issue Date: 29-Apr-2015
Abstract: This thesis explored the topic of the categorization of and programming for students named, through intellectual assessment and/or documented school failure, as “slow learners”. Written as a fictionalized hard-boiled detective story instead of adopting a more traditional thesis format, the thesis drew on the author’s experiential data, primary sources, and interviews with students, teachers, administrators, and curriculum leaders and the interpretive lenses of disability studies, including disability history, and hermeneutics. It explored assumptions contained in the slow learner label and the resourcing and accommodation practices, and their lack, that flow from this and other educational labels. Emergent themes included the harmful consequences of sorting individuals by measured intelligence scores, and the notion that the complexity of human learning for any student is greater than the slow learner label, or any educational label can contain. Paradoxically, even as these themes emerged, the actual teaching practices in many programs for slow learners, in their concreteness, in their freedom from constraints such as standardized testing, and in their use of inquiry methods, were reported as beneficial to these students and potentially to other students as well. When similar methods were used in non-segregated classrooms that included students named as slow learners, most students were reported to be engaged and successful. In this vein, broader educational reform measures that might be potentially helpful in helping make schools more inclusive for the students currently labelled slow learners were also examined. This thesis recommended the use of inclusive approaches in classrooms at the site-based level as well as continued scrutiny and reform of the institutional barriers at the school, district, and provincial levels that contribute to the production of slow learners.
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