Specialist Teachers spread word on learners with differences

Many storybook characters are quirky or eccentric because of a learning difference – a fact that inclusive education staff and students at Massey University are tapping into with a ‘novel’ approach.      


Associate Professor Tracy Riley and new students at the Specialist Teaching programme’s bookcrossing launch at Massey’s Albany campus

This year they launched a version of the global website-linked, book-sharing phenomenon – bookcrossing – by giving out popular novels that feature characters with learning, behavioural or physical disabilities or gifts.

The aim is to create more awareness about learners with differences, from gifted students to those with dyslexia, autism, or any combination of other disabilities, says Associate Professor Tracy Riley, who came up with the idea.

The project saw staff from Massey’s Specialist Teaching programme distributing 45 well-known titles they had bought or donated – like Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, which is about a boy with autism. Children’s books as well as DVDs of the books chosen for the project are also being shared. Each comes with a specially designed book label and bookmark with information and contact details about the project.

Participants are encouraged to read the books, then to share their comments on a blog – – created especially for the project. They can then leave the book in a library, staffroom or café or public place for the next reader.

Associate Professor Riley, an expert on gifted learners, says literature can be a powerful way to share stories about individual differences and disabilities, and “to teach empathy, acceptance, and understanding of diversity”.

Putting It Into Practice

This year Massey welcomed almost 300 new students enrolled in the Postgraduate Diploma for Specialist Teaching, which is now in its third year. The University is working in partnership with the Ministry of Education and the University of Canterbury to provide the two-year programme in alignment with the Government campaign launched in 2010, called Success for all – every school, every child.

The qualification is offered in partnership with the University of Canterbury. It adopts an inquiry-based inter-professional education approach using a range of blended learning options for all students regardless of location.

There are seven specialist endorsement areas: Learning and Behaviour (offered by both Massey University and University of Canterbury); Autism Spectrum Disorder (offered only by Massey University); Blind and Low Vision (offered only by Massey University); Complex Educational Needs (subject to CUAP Approval) (offered only by Massey University); Gifted and Talented (offered only by Massey University); Deaf and Hearing Impairment (offered only by University of Canterbury); Early Intervention (offered only by University of Canterbury).

The qualification consists of four compulsory papers: core theory and foundations; specialist theory and foundations; evidence-based practice and a practicum. The inter-professional approach allows specialist teachers in inclusive education to learn with, from and about each other within a community of practice.

Specialised Postgrad Courses

Massey also offers Postgraduate Certificates – requiring 60 credits or the equivalent of one semester of full-time study – in EducationEducational Administration and Leadership; Speech and Language Therapy and Tertiary Teaching.

Postgraduate Diplomas in Education – requiring 120 credits or the equivalent of one year of full-time study – are available with endorsements in: Adult Education; Counselling and Guidance; E-Learning; Early Years Education; Educational Psychology; Maori Education; Special Education; and Teaching and Learning.

Institute of Education

Graduate and postgraduate education is a key focus for Massey’s new Institute of Education, launched earlier this year as New Zealand’s first university-based Institute of Education.

The newly formed institute, which replaces the University’s 16-year-old College of Education, is “leading a revolution in education” by focusing on improving the learning outcomes for all children, says acting director Associate Professor Sally Hansen.

“The vision for the institute is to create an environment for excellence in educational research and postgraduate education that is unmatched in New Zealand and equal to the leading university education institutions of the world,” she says.

“The focus on graduate and postgraduate initial teacher education fits with government’s policy for strong, postgraduate teacher preparation programmes in New Zealand and will enhance the status of the profession and improve the learning outcomes of students in schools.”

Dr Hansen said the overarching aim is to bring together best research, theory and practice. “The driving force of this new institute is not only to produce outstanding graduates, but also to be at the cutting edge of educational research and to inject fresh energy, ideas, tools and approaches into education.”

She said graduates would be leaders and change agents who can genuinely make a difference and improve learning outcomes in school pupils. “Through education we are, in effect, helping to grow the future, to shape our nation.”

Learn more about Massey University’s Institute of Education here.

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