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Contact Us. All names used in the article are pseudonyms. There were six students in the second-and third-grade and five students in the fourth-and fifth-grade identified for special education services, including support for learning disabilities, autism spectrum disorder, ADHD, and developmental disabilities. Each classroom had a special education teacher who worked with the students for part of the day, either within the regular classroom or in a resource room as specified in their IEPs, and each classroom had a full-time instructional aide to assist two students, one with autism and one with developmental disabilities.

The school provided extra personnel to support full inclusion of students with IEPs in the general education classroom, although there were some pull-out services provided in language arts and mathematics. Schild, the second-third grade teacher with ten years of teaching experience, and Mrs.

Stone, the fourth-fifth grade teacher with 8 years of teaching experience, recognized that the children in their multiage classrooms had difficulties interacting with and respecting their classmates with autism, learning disabilities, and developmental disabilities. Each teacher thought it would be important to plan a curricular unit about disabilities that would build awareness, understanding, and tolerance of disability issues within the classroom. Although the focus of this article is on children's discussions during whole-class read-alouds and small-group literature discussions, the topic of disability was also explored in inquiry centers, writing, art, and drama.

In both classrooms, most of the 18 books used for read-aloud and small-group literature discussions were chosen from recommendations by the American Library Association ALA and the National Council of Teachers of English NCTE for books that have sensitive portrayals of characters with disabilities. Some of the books won awards, such as the Schneider Family Award or the Dolly Gray Award for outstanding books about disability. The books covered a range of disabilities: developmental, physical, and learning disabilities as well as autism spectrum disorder. Even though these books won awards and show people with disabilities in mostly positive ways, there were still issues, stereotypes, and negative images that were examined and critiqued by the children.

During the whole-class read-aloud, the teachers of both classes asked open-ended questions about the picture books as they read, and they encouraged the children to talk during the reading of the book. Schild and Mrs. Stone pushed the children to consider the contradictions and tensions in stories, especially when issues of disability were at the forefront of the text. Both teachers encouraged the children to challenge and question each other, and they brought in the perspectives of the students with disabilities into the class discussions.

Students in both classrooms also participated in student-led, small-group literature discussions. The classes were divided up into four or five groups, depending on the students' reading or interest level. Students were given a choice of books to read, but they needed to be able to read the book independently, i. While reading the books independently, children jotted down questions or comments in their response journals, and they brought their journals with them to the groups as a means of encouraging discussion.

Both read-aloud and small-group discussions lasted 30 to 45 minutes. Student's talk before, during, and after read-aloud and small-group literature discussions was audio- and videorecorded. In all, 20 sessions in each classroom were taped and transcribed.

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I conducted interviews with the teachers three times using an open-ended method of questioning in order to understand the students' developing beliefs and attitudes towards disability. In addition, select children and parents were interviewed, and all children had the opportunity for reflection in writing. I was an observer in the classroom, which involved taking extensive field notes, observing the children during classroom activities, and writing reflective memos in order to tie together emerging categories as the data are analyzed.

The analysis of data was an evolutionary process of discovering recurring patterns by observing, recording, and reflecting. Data analysis was conducted simultaneously with data collection and interpretation. My analysis began with a summarization of classroom field notes, immersion in audio- and videotape data, and a preliminary identification of potential patterns as the tapes were transcribed. Through an ongoing review of my field notes as well as repeated immersion in the audio- and video- data, I began to sort out analytic categories.

I followed Strauss and Corbin's series of steps for data analysis, which included open coding, axial coding, and selective coding. The next sections provide in-depth descriptions of the major themes that emerged from the data. In the beginning of the curriculum units on disability, both teachers spent time helping children to understanding what disabilities were like. This theme shows how children wrestled with the boundaries of the disabilities portrayed in books. Although most of the books used in this study were fictional, many books provided factual information about a disability, either as a foreword or afterword.

Children's discussions initially reflected an attempt to understand and define the characteristics of various disabilities. In Looking after Louis Ely, , a book about a boy with autism who gets away with behavior the other children cannot, the second- and third-graders tried to figure out the kind of disability that Louis had:. Although accurate medical information is important, children had difficulty moving beyond definitions. Their language reflected the factual construction of disability as a conglomeration of characteristics, therefore reinforcing the medical model that shows the nature of disability as categorical and circumscribed Solis, In viewing main characters as representatives of particular disabilities, children were constructing an "enlightenment narrative," in which a person with a disability functions primarily as an 'education device' for others, thereby viewing 'disabled' and 'non-disabled' as rigid categories Dunn, , p.

As children explored the definitions and characteristics of disability, the question of "what is normal" arose. In a discussion of Crow Boy Yashima, , a book about Chibi, a boy with autism who lives in the mountains of Japan, the second and third-graders wrestled with the idea of individual differences and being "normal.

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The children questioned and critiqued notions of "normality" and who decides what "normal" is. In considering differences among people, Micaila suggested that the characters from two books, both with autism, saw the world in a different way. Riley and Ms. Schild discussed the idea that we are all different, not just people with disabilities.

Through a discussion of "normal," children came to consider individual differences and the range of individual differences and disability, as opposed to a static set of characteristics.

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Children were beginning to realize that there were more fluid boundaries to the definitions of disability and normality, and that definitions served different purposes for different people. As Ms. Schild pointed out, we are all individual, rather than different, but in using this language, Ms. Schild reinforced the notion that disability is defined individually, not as a continuum of abilities within society. The issue of differences arose in many conversations. In the following excerpt, the second- and third graders discussed See the Ocean Condra, and how the main character, Nelly, could "see" the ocean with her mind and her heart, even though she was blind:.