This visually rich qualitative teacher-action research focuses on the personal learning experience a classroom of first grade students had as they grew in understanding of difference through daily interactions with young friends who have severe disabilities. Each first grader spent 30 minutes, one day a week, visiting the special education classroom down the hall, which was home to their friends who needed total care and spent a majority of their day in a wheelchair.
During these visits, the first graders enjoyed interacting with their friends using a variety of manipulatives, music, movement, games, books, and art. This experience was loosely supervised by the special education teacher after students were given instructions on stations and activities available that day. Upon returning to their classroom, the students reflected on the experience. Reflection for the first few weeks was through oral discussion to build a community feel and common language. Written reflections were later kept in student-created journals.
Though this experience began in the fall, data for this exploration was collected during the Spring semester of the 2013-2014 school year. The following questions guided the design and implementation of this study: 1) How do children make sense of their interactions with children who have severe disabilities, and what do their words reveal regarding their understandings about and across difference?
2) What do interactions between students “look like,” and what can “doing” reveal about human interactions?
Data collection and analysis were informed through a critical, ethnographic-like lens with a participant perspective from the teacher-researcher. Photos and video documentation focused on the hands and feet of the participants to ensure privacy rights. Interviews, journal entries, photo elicitation, and a focus group discussion provided the remainder of the data set after parental permission and participant assent.
Findings are shared visually with an invitation to enter a child’s lifeworld via their voice, both written and verbal. Readers are asked to ponder the evidence through the shared voice and visions and consider the impact of the affective realm on learning and understanding and its significance in all of human interactions—all the selves and all the others.