Chapter 10

Analysis of the Synchronic Data 2:

Further Evidence to Supplement the Previous Findings






Aims and objectives of this chapter

This chapter aims to investigate whether:

  • the findings of the previous chapter can also occur in other schools with different art teachers.
  • the behaviour discussed in the previous chapter can be found in a different culture with a different education system, which has also gone through a process of educational inclusion during its recent history.


The objective of this chapter is to examine experiences of patterns of behaviour in different environments and in a different culture to those discussed in the previous chapter, as few sources of data existed during the initial stages of the study. It should be emphasised that this is not a cross cultural analysis, which examines the differences or similarities between cultures. Rather than it examines whether behaviour is observable in different cultures.


Furthermore, there are two reasons data was gathered in the US in particular. The first reason was the initial findings of research conducted with “Art Beyond Sight”[1], New York. This research focused on the experiences of students in the relatively small number of remaining schools for the blind in the US; and also examined the interaction between museums and galleries and schools for the blind in three US states.


An initial analysis of the data gathered during this study showed that the US had undergone similar experiences of inclusion following legislation introduced during the 1970s. In addition, it appeared from this research that, similar to mainstream school teachers in England, US teachers were not provided with extra training and appeared to have limited resourcing to facilitate the inclusion of students who were blind or visually impaired.


Furthermore whilst visiting the schools participating in this study in the US, it transpired that there was a sharing of educational theory and practice between the US and England – including study visits from academics at Birmingham University, who at the time had strong academic links with New College, Worcester. Consequently students and teachers found themselves in similar educational circumstances in terms of art education.


The second reason for choosing to use data gathered in the US was that Doyle’s (1979) original observations that led to his theory of ambiguity and risk, and much of its supporting behavioural theories, were based in the US. As a result, it seemed fitting that data should be gathered from this country, in order to see whether evidence supporting its later interpretation by Hayhoe (2000) could be observed in its original country of origin.


The structure of this chapter

            This chapter is split into the following segments under main headings:

  • The case study of Michael, a student registered legally blind, educated in a mainstream school and schools for the blind after 1981, and a graduate of illustration from a mainstream art college
  • Interviews with art teachers in schools for the blind in the US, and a peripatetic teacher who has supported teachers in mainstream schools in the US
  • Conclusion


N.B. References to interviews and field notes refer to excerpts and field notes found in appendix 10.


What now follows is the case study of Michael.


Case Study 5: Michael, who received his school education after the 1981 Act in a mainstream school and at The Valley, and graduated in illustration from a mainstream art college.


Michael’s social and educational background

I chose to study Michael because he had a degree in a visual art subject, Illustration, had been registered legally blind since childhood and had attended a school for the blind from his early teens. He was originally identified by one of the art teachers participating in the interviews, Harry from The Valley, a school for the blind in the English midlands. Harry pointed out that he was an interesting student to study in retrospect, as he refused to fully accept his blindness. He was also unusual for a student registered blind because he specialised in two dimensional rather than three dimensional art. I felt that this recommendation made him an appropriate person to participate in the study.


At the outset Harry contacted Michael for me, and I was put in touch with him shortly after my initial visits to The Valley. After these contacts through Harry, I also Michael directly, and arranged to meet him for informal interviews at The Valley. After several visits, where I also managed to see his portfolio of undergraduate and professional illustrations, I conducted a more formal interview with Michael, which lasted most of one afternoon, and an observation of a project he was conducting with the school, which lasted for a similar period. In this way, my data was more focused, as my interview questions and observation foci were informed by the earlier meetings.


Michael was in his mid-twenties when he participated in this study. He was working as a professional illustrator, taking art commissions and had recently finished a post as an artist in residence at a school in the midlands. He mostly lived in London with his grandmother, and traveled to The Valley occasionally to visit Harry, his former art teacher, where they were both working on a commissioned art project for a national trade union, which involved coordinating and directing students as they painted a panel mural for the union’s headquarters.


Michael had been registered blind since late childhood (Michael interview 1). However, he stated in his interview that this status belied his visual impairment, which was caused by an extreme form of degenerative myopia. This disease is caused by a distortion of the lens, causing refractive errors and leaving very little distant vision (Coakes & Holmes Sellors, 1988). Furthermore this condition leaves fewer cones at the back of the eye than normal, leading to further pernicious outcomes, such as lack of colour recognition.

Very high degrees of myopia (greater than 15 dioptres) are accompanied by degenerative retinal changes. These eyes are also more prone to develop glaucoma and cataract. Degenerative myopia is a significant cause of blind registration.

Coakes & Holmes Sellors (1988: p.29)


It seems that Michael’s condition was similar to the hereditary disease portrayed by Oliver Sacks (1996) in The Island of the Colour Blind. It was also similar to Anna’s form of blindness – which was described in the previous chapter - and like Anna it rendered Michael photophobic. During the research (Michael interview 1), no access was allowed to Michael’s medical records, therefore there was no confirmatory evidence of his condition. However, his collaborator in the art commission and former teacher, Harry, informally confirmed the extreme level and condition of his blindness.


During his interview (Michael interview 1) it transpired that Michael came from a middle class family, who, when he was very young, lived in London and then moved to a town in the west midlands. He stated that in these early years he tried to conceal his blindness, although he and his parents knew his vision was severely impaired and deteriorating rapidly. Nevertheless Michael explained that he had always wanted to live a normal life and attend a mainstream school. As a result, he decided to ignore many of the impairments that caused his myopia.


Michael (Michael interview 1) considered himself to be able bodied as a child, and said that he wanted to mix with other able bodied boys. He felt that these students were his “real peers”. Michael also said that his parents allowed him to go to a mainstream school, where, also with his parents’ consent, he shunned the thick pair of glasses that he was prescribed. Even though this left him without any workable long vision, he felt their size and design would have left him outcast at school.


Michael (Michael interview 1) explained that the nature of his blindness made him more adept to “close work”, such as detailed drawing, in his mainstream school. As a result, he felt he had become highly adept at drawing in his art lessons in this school. This was why, he felt, he was a very competent and confident artist in his professional career. However he also found that, in his original schooling, what made him adept at art caused problems in other lessons, such as English and mathematics. In particular in these lessons he couldn’t see the blackboard. As a consequence he behaved badly in these classes, and lost interest in this element of school.


Michael’s classroom disruptions and truancy meant his mainstream school was increasingly unable to cope with what he described as his negative behaviour (Michael interview 1). As a result he was referred to an educational psychologist, and then placed on the Special Educational Needs register for his blindness – he was legally registered blind at this point - and learning and behavioural difficulties. However Michael felt that eventually his blindness, above all, was almost used as an excuse to move him out of his mainstream school, and was not diagnosed out of concern for his needs.


Michael (Michael interview 1) found that he had trouble getting used to The Valley at first, as he was surrounded by students who had much worse sight problems than him. He also said that he found that students at The Valley all appeared to be further behind him in his other subjects, not only in art, and did not want to “better themselves”.


Michael (Michael interview 1) found that attending the art room by himself at The Valley was a frequent and needed “escape”. He would even carry on working in the room during periods when he should have been attending his other lessons. Eventually, Michael found that Harry allowed him to stay during these extra periods as long as he continued productive tasks such as painting. In addition, Michael went home as frequently as possible from The Valley and insisted on being a “day boy”[2]. In addition, at sixteen he attended the local further education college on day release, where he could work with students with sight - although this concession was granted to supplement his A Level studies.


Michael’s undergraduate and graduate experiences

Michael (Michael interview 1) finished his A Levels at The Valley – the highest grade came from art - and then, after a short period away from education, he was accepted on an art foundation course in a mainstream art college in the east midlands. On this foundation course, he found himself in a surprisingly different environment. He was with other students who were what he described as “top-dog” in their mainstream schools, and he could not avoid tasks that required being able to see objects at a distance.


Unlike The Valley, Michael (Michael interview 1) found that the curriculum and teaching at his art college could not be adapted to cater for his blindness, and he discovered he could not truant classes when he felt under pressure, as he did at his mainstream school or The Valley. This forced him to face the effects of his disability. Eventually, he survived the academic tasks required of him until the end of the year, and received his certificate after completing the course.


After this foundation course, Michael (Michael interview 1) enrolled on a first degree in Illustration, again in a mainstream art college in the east midlands, which had its degrees ratified by a local university. This appeared to be an appropriate choice because he felt he was even better at drawing by this time, having concentrated on this skill whilst on his foundation course.


Michael (Michael interview 1) also explained that he had practiced a great deal of illustrative tasks in mock exercises by the time he began his degree course. This appeared to provide him with significant evidence that he was capable of achieving pass marks on this course. In addition, he also found that if he was set tasks in which his blindness disabled him – for instance in tasks in which he could not see the object of an illustration from a distance -, he found he could creatively negotiate with his lecturers to achieve a compromise in many of the subjects of these illustrations - although not their subjects.


Michael (Michael interview 1) said that there was a further reason for his choice of illustration as a degree subject. Aesthetically he was interested in figurative art more than abstract - this was a preference that had been encouraged by Harry in earlier classes. However, Michael found that despite all of the potential advantages that could improve his chances of success on this course, he did not progress as much as he had expected initially, and found himself struggling behind the other students on many of the simpler tasks he was set.


Michael (Michael interview 1) also felt that despite being able to negotiate changes of subject with his lecturers, the practical problems he encountered during his degree, including his inability to copy from a distance in such situations as life drawing classes, had affected his final grade. For example he found that his blindness led him to construct images from many closely made observations, which, as a result, developed his visual imagination more than that of his fellow students, but detracted from his eventual drawings. Eventually Michael achieved a lower second class degree, which he found was disappointing.


Michael’s project during the study

During the interviews and observations Michael was working on a new commission. This was a new learning experience, as he had previously only worked as a freelance artist for a six week period as a visiting artist. Michael’s new commission for the national trade union, was funded by a former student of The Valley, who was now the outgoing president of the union. The brief for the project was to create a work of art with the school that promoted a positive attitude towards disability (Michael observation 1).


Michael (Michael interview 1, Michael observation 1) found that he was given free reign over the management of the project, including its materials, timeframe and concept. As a result, he stated he had designed a collage of MDF (fibreboard) panels. Each of these panels was to display individual pupil’s work, inspired by their interest. Michael also stated that he had devised a way of putting them together so that they could be disassembled and reassembled easily.


Michael (Michael interview 1, Michael observation 1) also found that he had particularly “sold” his idea as one which he knew held value - he described it as a “nice idea”. Thus it seemed that Michael’s individual work was self motivated, and its design was not reliant on sighted helpers. For example Harry’s only involvement was the coordination of his current students’ art work on the MDF boards (Michael observation 1).


An analysis of this data now follows.


An analysis of Michael’s experiences and behaviour

Michael appeared to have avoided exclusion from art tasks as he had classified himself, socially and culturally, as a person with normal sight, i.e. he did not want to be with people who were blind and he did not want to behave in a way he felt blind people should behave. This seemed to invite teachers to treat him as they would a sighted student. Consequently, he appeared to exclude himself from subjects which he could have, with the correct support, gained more from, given more positive learning behaviour. Therefore, it could be argued that his experiences in tasks that featured seeing distant objects led to him creating his own negative experiences and his own gaining of inappropriate support.


As a result, Michael appeared to rebel in subjects requiring literacy and numeracy, either absenting himself from lessons or misbehaving in order to avoid having to attempt the tasks set on the board. Similarly, it seemed that his art worked appeared to evolve as a way of developing his self esteem, as a form of task that he could perform successfully, and therefore appeared to serve the purpose of providing him with a “symbol” of success at school.


In terms of his choice of academic task, it is possible that Michael drew at every possible opportunity, purely because he was particularly talented in two dimensional art or he naturally enjoyed these tasks to the exclusion of all others. However, this would seem inadequate in explaining why he avoided tasks that he knew he would be penalised for in his assessments, and threaten his academic future. It seems more likely that Michael’s confidence in drawing resulted in part from a rejection of his disability and ambition to achieve a normal successful life, as a child of a successful family as his parents told him he could. This occurred even though in the longer term it jeopardised his position at mainstream school.


It seems that a further consequence of Michael’s rejection of his disability was that he did not describe having any negative expectations of his artistic ability at “mainstream” school, although he suffered the negative consequences of his myopia in other classes during this period. For instance, although he was initially in the same position as his sighted peers, his inability to see the board resulted in behaviour designed to avoid “normal” academic tasks, whether unambiguous or not. As a consequence, drawing imaginative objects whilst he was supposed to be working in other classes at mainstream school arguably became a form of rejection or avoidance, as well as a source of self esteem.


In terms of our examination of Doyle’s theory of ambiguity and risk, it seems that Michael’s behaviour questions Doyle’s notion that it is the quantity of students’ experiences that is of the greatest importance in determining their levels of risk taking during task performance, particularly those tasks with ambiguous outcomes. In particular, it seemed that it was the quality of his experiences in his mainstream school that was of paramount importance in determining his later behaviour at The Valley. For example, Michael later rejected academic subjects at The Valley that he had negative experiences of in his earlier education, but took risks when drawing eventhough its subject was more ambiguous. In particular, it was this latter task which provided him with experiences of success at mainstream school.


It also appears that Michael’s self confidence at school was relative to his self esteem. In particular it seemed that his confidence in his ability to draw well was built on the relative poorness of his academic performance in more literate subjects. For example, Michael (Michael interview 1) explained that when he reached art college he found that his artistic talent was not unique, whereas previously he had been “top dog” at The Valley. This appeared to threaten his sense of self esteem in these subjects, and led to his truancy from many of his academic classes, even though he continued to excel at drawing, i.e. the symbol of being “only ordinary” in these new circumstances threatened the value of his seemingly unique skill. Eventually however his frame of reference of what was success and failure changed from the period in which he began attending The Valley – when he found pupils were significantly below him academically - to within his degree course.


Furthermore, it emerged that his classification in his last days at mainstream school as a person with a legally classified disability affected his confidence initially and led to a sense of social isolation when he first moved to The Valley. In particular he explained that he was different from the other students there. This would seem to have posed a further threat to his overall sense of social self esteem, and caused him to feel a sense of isolation. As a result, he began to truant his lessons, eventhough he would have received more support at The Valley, and worked in the art room by himself in order to contribute to an experience of the “normality” he felt in his mainstream school.


Socially and culturally, Michael’s behaviour at The Valley would also seem to allow him to maintain the relatively normal life of a “person with sight”, and preserve his identity as a “normal” boy. In addition his choice of course would further provide evidence of a “normal”, non-disabled identity. In his interview Michael made a point of stating that it was because he felt more at home with sighted peers that he refused to board at the school. If he could leave school in the afternoon, he argued, he could still see his sighted friends at night.


Finally, it seems that the relative sense of Michael’s self confidence in his artistic ability is demonstrated in the way he did not do as well as he thought he should have done during his degree course. Although he passed with a lower second, his expectations were much higher. As Michael’s ability to draw had been above many people with sight as well as those at The Valley, it is also possible that his drawing ability was a symbol of his educational self confidence in comparison to their drawing abilities, and further maintained his position as a person with “normal” ability, i.e. not disabled.


Moreover, he described having many peers with sight throughout his school career (Michael interview 1), none less so than in his middle-class family. It is possible therefore that he would have been endowed with high educational expectations, and not those usually associated with people who are disabled. Arguably, therefore, he may have felt that he received a harsh assessment at art college and one that did not reflect his true ability as a “successful” middle class man. This would have been a further reason for rejecting poorly performing students at The Valley as his peers.


A description and analysis of the teachers’ interviews now follows.


Teacher interviews: Teachers who had taught students who were blind after their inclusion in an art curriculum in England and the US


The separate development of educational systems

            Before beginning the analysis of the teachers’ evidence it is important to re-emphasise that the purpose for gathering teachers’ experiences from England and the US. It was initially only to compare the behaviour of students from a different educational culture who had been subjected to a similar historical movement; i.e. the sudden, legal inclusion of students in a mainstream art curriculum.


However, although the US and England were chosen as they had cultural educational differences, it seems also important to emphasise that there are many cross-cultural similarities between England and the US’s systems in schools for the blind. Primarily, both countries share a common language. Our governments and their religious ethics share a common ancestry – particularly with reference to the acquisition and structure of their educational systems. For instance, in the diachronic study it was demonstrated that both countries originally founded charitable asylums for the blind rather than state maintained institutes for the blind, as on the continent.


There are, however, distinct political and educational differences which arguably result from our contemporary histories that should be taken into account in the context of the analysis of this study. Firstly US education is not centrally controlled by a national government as it is in England. US educators do not have a National Curriculum as England does. The official policy of integrating children with disabilities has been in effect relatively longer in the US than in England – the US began legal integration throughout the 1970s whereas in England it began in 1981.


In both countries, academic testing also has different connotations. In the US it is only necessary to attain credit in an arts subject – to attain credit, a student has to demonstrate they have reached a subjective target, often negotiated with their teachers -, and this credit is assessed locally. In England children must attain nationally recognised targets of competence throughout their school careers, and schools’ and students’ performances are judged by national and local league tables.


An outline of the teachers and their schools now follows.


An outline of the teachers and their schools

            As I described in chapter 5, I conducted interviews for this section with four US art teachers in schools for the blind, one US peripatetic teacher from the US who supported students who were blind in mainstream art classes, and four English art teachers in schools for the blind. The US teachers and their schools/city were given the following pseudonyms:

  • Taylor from Ashton Gate
  • Cassie from Highbury
  • Stacy from Highfield Road
  • Petra from St Andrew’s
  • Cheryl from The Walker’s Stadium

The English teachers and their schools were given the following pseudonyms:

  • Steve from Anfield
  • Harry from The Valley
  • Asia from The Hawthorns
  • Gerard from New College, Worcester


The teachers had been practicing for more than fifteen years when I interviewed them. All of them had taught in mainstream schools before teaching in schools for the blind. Five of these teachers had previously been professional artists or craft practitioners. Three were men and six were women. As there were relatively few teachers of art in schools for the blind, it was observed that this gender split seemed to be fairly typical for art teachers in schools for the blind. Notably, none of the teachers I interviewed or were asked to participate were blind or visually impaired themselves. It appeared that none of the schools that I approached had ever employed an art teacher who had a visual impairment.


All of the teachers involved in the study had been trained to teach students who were blind at universities in their countries. In the US the training either consisted of a supplementary course on their degree programs or a post-graduate certificate course whilst they were teaching. In England the teachers took an extra qualification after completing their initial teacher training – which either consisted of a first degree and a postgraduate certificate or diploma in education, or taking an extended teaching degree which was equivalent. The qualification in England was taken after the teachers had begun their teaching posts in schools for the blind. This qualification was a legal requirement. Coincidentally, all of the English teachers gained this qualification at Birmingham University.


Apart from The Valley in England, which was founded by its local authority, all of the schools featured in the study were originally formed as asylums or charity run schools. The majority of these schools however had mainly been subsumed by Local Educational Authorities (LEAs) in England or state governments in the US. Only a few remained as independent charities or run by larger charities.


The students in these schools mainly came from wide geographic areas and, apart from The Hawthorns, accepted boarding students. All of the schools featured in the study also had relatively small student bodies – around 120 was the maximum number. The school’s art class sizes were small when I conducted interviews in the schools – I observed a maximum of three students in any of the classes I visited during the research, and I observed and assisted with several classes in each school. Although children up to the age of sixteen also tended to have classroom assistants to help in lessons, after the age of sixteen examination classes tended to have no assistants.


In terms of the tasks they set their students, the teachers generally appeared to present positive expectations of their students’ work (see for instance Gerard interview 1, Petra interview 1, Asia interview 1 and Steve interview 1). In addition several of the teachers described creating a tactile “language” as the basis of their teaching. For instance, Harry (Harry interview 1) from The Valley in England described his approach to teaching children who were registered blind by highlighting the importance of building such a form of tactile communication between these students and himself from as early an age as possible. He also said that he liaised with the teachers in the junior schools in order to provide a sense of continuity in their art education.


Many of the schools that participated in the interviews also had students with other physical and learning disabilities. These appeared to be common to the conditions that caused their blindness, such as those who had suffered brain tumours or had Downs’s syndrome. These, Harry explained (Harry interview 1) interfered with the way that many of his students interacted socially and educationally with the rest of their class. Many, he felt, also had difficulty concentrating or being without attention for any length of time. However, several of the teachers (see for instance Petra interview 1, Gerard interview 1, Asia interview 1 and Steve interview 1) also felt that as long as these students had no previous negative experiences of art, they always attempted their art tasks, whether or not they went on to chose art as an elective subject.


Furthermore, Gerard (Gerard interview 1) from New College also described engaging students through a combination of tactile and verbal discourses during lessons. For example, he stated that he began teaching his students by discussing subjects they were interested in, then allowing them to explore these subjects through the design of artefacts in several different media. He then explained he would take a problem solving approach to setting many of these art tasks. This involved giving his students the freedom to experiment, and then find techniques that suited their particular needs – whether they related to their blindness or to other learning difficulties.


An analysis of these teachers observations of their experiences now follows.


An analysis of the teacher’s experiences of their teaching methods

            Several of the teachers from the US and England explained that students who had been initially educated in mainstream schools had experienced a mixture of positive inclusion in, and negative exclusion from, mainstream art tasks – this was despite being mainly educated in the same art classrooms as students with sight. Furthermore, many of the students that were described in the teacher interviews as being excluded from elements of art education at a young age were more likely to avoid similar tasks in their upper schools.


For instance, Asia (Asia interview 1), an English art teacher, found that adults who were blind and who were not taught art prior to the introduction of the National Curriculum, were reluctant to approach art tasks later. In her judgment, this same lack of confidence applied to students of all ages, abilities and disabilities who had negative or no experiences of art before entering art courses. In addition, she said that these attitudes seemed to reflect the social attitudes of their mainstream art teachers more than the physical or mental ability of their students.


These experiences seemed to be comparable to those described by Petra (Petra interview 1) from the US. Similar to Asia, she found that when students who were blind or visually impaired had been excluded from mainstream art classes, they appeared to acquire evidence to support negative beliefs about their own ability, and this often led to an avoidance of tasks.


Furthermore Harry (Harry interview 1) from England and Taylor (Taylor interview 1) from the US both appeared to provide similar descriptions of students who had negative behaviour as a result of negative expectations in their early mainstream schools. Similarly, both argued that these negative expectations were particularly instilled through their early art teachers’ discourse with their students which, they felt, were often informed by social attitudes to blindness. Consequently these students had developed what they felt were negative learning behaviour and task avoidance when introduced to art tasks during classes in their schools for the blind later in their academic careers.


For example, Harry (Harry interview 1) described teaching one such student who had reasonable eyesight but behaved badly during art tasks. Harry added that this student was actively excluded from art activities at his early mainstream schools. In the end Harry found that he would only draw if he could use a computer, which he had learnt to rely on as a child. This computer was provided by the school to help with the student’s special needs’ requirements in literacy and numeracy.


However although he became adept at using the class computer to create works of art, Harry’s student would still refuse to carry out tasks with traditional drawing equipment and methods. Harry explained that he had become dependent on his computer too much to attempt these manual exercises. As a result, Harry found that his refusal to draw in a traditional manner barred him from entering the GCSE art examination.


In contrast, the US mainstream peripatetic teacher, Taylor (Taylor interview 1), described one student who was a high achiever, and that she had supported in class for several years before he eventually took art as a teenager. This student’s art teacher appeared to be reluctant to set him the same or similar tasks as his students with sight. This, Taylor suggested, led the student to feel uncomfortable in art lessons, and he eventually did not enjoy attending them.


After this experience, Taylor (Taylor interview 1) continued, even when he was offered the chance to attend further art courses, he declined. The student felt that after this period that he was not capable of art. This experience was very unfortunate, Taylor felt, as the student had picked this course because it sounded interesting, and, she said, the student had entered the class with an open mind. He appeared to have no previous negative experiences of learning that would suggest that he should doubt his potential to achieve as much as he had done in other, similar classes, if he had wanted to.


It is possible however that in this case Taylor’s student was put off by the context of drawing in art classes, but not necessarily the task of drawing itself. This again leads me to further question the element of Doyle’s theory of ambiguity and risk that it is simply quantity of experience rather than a mixture of quantity and quality of experience that is of paramount importance to risk taking in art task performance. For instance, after his experiences in art classes Taylor reported that her student was given the same drawing tasks as his sighted peers during mathematics lessons. In particular, he was taught how to draw perspective and two dimensional objects to scale. However, Taylor found that it appeared he was able to pick up this skill with ease because of his teachers’ support and positive expectations of him in this class.


It also seemed that some of the teachers who were interviewed, described observing behaviour that could be interpreted as learned helplessness (Arnold, 1997; Deci & Chandler, 1986), such as that described in the analysis of my previous study (Hayhoe, 2000). It was also observed that too liberal, over optimistic expectations of students who were blind in their classes also led to negative learning behaviour.


For instance, a student that Taylor (Taylor interview 1) supported in the US was taught away from mainstream students by an untrained teacher. Taylor found, however, that unlike her previous experiences of such teachers this student’s social exclusion was over compensated for by this teacher who told him he could achieve mainstream art tasks without any additional assistance.


Furthermore, Taylor explained that during his art lessons the student’s art teacher would not criticise his work in any way, or remove marks from his assessment when he made mistakes. Instead, the art teacher appeared to complement the student’s mistakes, and, she felt, reduced his ability to detect errors in his work. As a result, the student developed what appeared to be a complacent attitude to the quality of his work.


Taylor (Taylor interview 1) found that although in the short term this meant the student she was describing wanted to attempt art tasks, in the long term, when his expectations were not fulfilled, his frame of reference of what was successful and unsuccessful became ambiguous. Taylor felt that this student’s unrealistic expectations appeared to continue when he chose to apply for a place at a high school specialising in art[3].


Unfortunately, although he had help in building a portfolio for his interview, he continued to assume limited paintings and drawings would be enough to secure him entry to this school. In addition, Taylor noticed that his choice of subjects in his drawings and paintings seemed particularly limited. As a result he was rejected during the first stages of auditions for the high school, which left him despondent and unmotivated in his remaining art classes.


Finally, in terms of this thesis’ model of analysis, it could be argued that the art teacher had developed similarly unrealistic expectations of this student’s ability. Consequently, it would seem that this led to a reversal of Doyle’s (1983) earlier observations that led him to formulate his theory. In particular despite the ambiguity of his tasks and the assessment he received, the student took increasingly greater risks without fear of failure. However when he came across a more objective assessment of his work, his previous frame of reference was questioned and he behaved in a way Doyle (1983) argued a beginning student would face given the same task.




            Evidence presented from the interviews with art teachers in this chapter appears to suggest that students in different schools, cities and countries can, in many instances, have similarly mixed experiences of exclusion within mainstream classes. This evidence also appears to suggest that this exclusion can take the form of both underestimating their abilities and ignoring their disabilities, at the cost of their full inclusion in the educational tasks of their peers with sight. It therefore seems that there is evidence of a lack of uniformity in understanding these students’ needs and capabilities in earlier mainstream art education, and therefore a contributory factor of their exclusion was these teachers’ lack of training.


It can also be argued that in Michael’s case study art education was used as a means of avoiding other academic tasks that posed a risk to his self esteem; although Michael’s case study also observed that the bad experiences he was avoiding were not imposed on him by other’s negative attitudes, but by his own self imposed exclusion from these subjects. Any potential support he could have received early in his schooling, it seems possible, was sacrificed in order for him to maintain a “symbolic” able bodied identity. However, it is also possible that his family’s and school’s lack of understanding of his needs at school contributed to his exclusion from “normal” academic tasks.


Moreover, the manner of these students’ behaviour as a result of their negative experiences appears to challenge Doyle’s premise that the quantity of experience is more important than the quality of students’ experiences, when considering whether to take risks in art tasks. For instance, it would appear that Michael concentrated on tasks in his mainstream school that he found he could attempt safely at the expense of work he could not succeed in, because his disability restricted the range of tasks that he could follow with success. In particular, at one point he stated in his interviews that he drew in his mathematics and English exercise books when he was supposed to be writing in these classes.


There appears, however, to be at least one anomaly in the comparisons of behaviour of one of the students described by Taylor and that observed by Emile in the previous chapter. For example, Taylor described a student who avoided drawing in art after his uncomfortable earlier experiences but enjoyed drawing in mathematics after positive experiences. This suggested that the context of his drawing affected his behaviour. However, Emile appeared to avoid work involving writing in all of his subjects after negative experiences in his mainstream classes. It would seem, therefore, that more data needs to be gathered about this area of experience and behaviour.


One possible argument for this difference is that Gerard did not appear to attempt to reverse Emile’s negative experiences during his art lessons. Taylor’s student appeared to have particularly positive experiences of drawing in his mathematics class – which was a function of his mathematics classes as part of an introduction to geometry. This would appear to tentatively suggest a difference in an understanding of the context of this task, or a difference in personalities and teaching environments. However it appears this anomaly is in particular need of much greater research in future, in order to discern a much clearer pattern of behaviour.


In terms of this study’s examination of Doyle’s theory of ambiguity and risk, the data examined in this chapter also appears to raise further questions about its ability to explain behaviour in classroom environments. Similar to the case of the student who had experienced exclusion in the previous chapter, it appears that even the experienced students described in this chapter avoided classroom tasks when they had experienced exclusion within their classroom tasks.


In addition, it can also be suggested that, in a reversal of Doyle’s theory, at least one student preferred to renegotiate assessed tasks when they became too difficult to make their subject more ambiguous if they were afraid of its outcome. This appears to be a contradiction of Doyle’s theory, which finds that inexperienced students are more likely to try and make exercises less ambiguous in order to reduce its risk of failure. For example, Michael attempted to renegotiate many of the unambiguous figurative drawing tasks, increasing their ambiguity, as it favoured his ability to draw more imaginatively. This allowed him to negate the disability of his long vision.


Finally, the difference in behaviour of students in the same class with similar quantities of experience must lead us to at least question the validity of Doyle’s notion that students’ behaviour is determined mainly by the quantity of their educational experience, their classroom environment, and the nature of their tasks in simple “synchronic time”.


The fact that such extreme differences can be observed in one classroom means that this notion is in need of greater research. In particular, it appears that the personal histories and the greater social and cultural nature of attitudes towards blindness in mainstream classes, which was left unchecked by additional teacher training, needs particular scrutiny in future research, as in the limited case studies presented in this thesis, these factors appeared to have a significant effect on behaviour.




            The following, final chapter concludes the whole study. It answers the original research questions, and argues the effects of the diachronic study on the synchronic analysis.



 © Simon Hayhoe 2005, 2007

[1] This is yet to be published as a paper.

[2] This is a term that denotes a non-boarder in a school that allows students to stay (“board”) at the school or return home in the evening.

[3] In the US this is expected to be the first step towards applying for a course in a degree awarding Art College.



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