Discursive assessment practices in a special school for girls identified with a disability in one Arabic-speaking Gulf-Arabian country

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Larry, Farida 

This study examines discursive assessment practices in a special school for girls identified with a disability in an Arabian-Gulf country. The study is driven by a notable absence of research on girls with disability in the Arab world, and the need for analysing practices that shape their identities and future trajectories. To disclose the mechanisms, processes, and tools influencing the coconstruction of girls’ identities by members of a multidisciplinary team, I developed an analytic framework that draws on three theories: systemic functional linguistics, critical genre analysis and sociocultural theory of discourse and identity production. The main data source is the audio-record of conversations that took place at case-conference meetings (CCMs). To describe the genre of a CCM and to disclose what went on, who was involved, and what outcomes were achieved, I constructed three narratives: ‘The most relevant thing about us’, ‘Much ado about everything’, and ‘Not so great expectations’. These narratives revealed the object, goals, and the outcomes of talk. With respect to the object of talk, or the knowledge underpinning assessment practices, there was much focus on girls’ diagnostic histories and scores in IQ tests; they were given a high priority and perceived as key to understanding the girls. Analysis also revealed a resistance to move beyond dichotomous thinking (i.e. girls are either trainable or educable). The goals of talk were to pass on information, to share assessment results, and to list objectives for intervention, each practitioner within her domain of expertise. This mode of passing on - rather than - discussing information and assessment results limited the prospect to benefit from the distributed knowledge of practitioners. The outcomes of talk were mediated by the two preceding discursive actions. A preoccupation with girls’ medical diagnosis, and a focus on passing on rather than discussing assessment reinforced deficit thinking. Further, categories assigned to girls stood as self-fulfilling prophesies, and as predictors of girls’ future performance. The space to create more positive identities was evident, however, where practitioners knew little about girls’ genetic or developmental disabilities. The implications of these objectifying practices are serious with respect to Gulf-Arabian countries and to similar Muslim sociocultural contexts. Perceiving diagnosis as the absolute truth feeds fatalistic beliefs further and results in inactivity and invisibility. Implications are offered for policy and practice and for future research.

Kershner, Ruth
Disability and Fatalism, Disability and Arabs, Special Education in Arab Countries, Girls with disability in the Arab world, Discursive assessment practices, Discourse analysis, Critical Genre Analysis, Systemic Functional Linguistics, Disability and Objectification, Sociocultrual theory, Sociocultural psychology, Historising disability, Disability in the Gulf-Arabian region, Inter-professional talk, Inter-professional practices, Child-study teams, Interdiscursive analysis, Disability talk
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Awarding Institution
University of Cambridge