The micro-genesis of inclusion

The micro-genesis of inclusion

There is a lack of research which provides a firm foundation for how educational environments can be made more inclusive. This is even truer if we understand inclusion as the building of learning- communities which encompass all pupils. How should teacher´s work in order to create such inclusive communities?

It seems reasonable to believe that inclusive communities develop over time. In a study that Barbro Alm and I conducted (reference below) we believed we could see how the teachers after several years of work together seemed to have created what appeared as a learning community in the classroom. This was evidenced in different ways, the pupil´s showed great trust in each other, enjoyed working in groups, were engaged in common discussions and reached relatively good educational outcomes.

What we did not do in that study was to study the classroom longitudinally. We entered the classroom in grade 5 and could only reconstruct the development of the class retrospectively. In a research review that Kerstin Göransson and I made (see reference below) we concluded that there was a lack of studies that in a methodologically sound way showed how learning environments can be created. Such studies demand that development is studied longitudinally and demand a lot of resources.

However, there are other ways to investigate how learning communities can be developed. I would like to use a concept from Vygotsky to characterize a type of studies than have the potential to provide valuable knowledge regarding how learning communities can become more inclusive.


Vygotsky suggested that in order to understand human beings we have to study them developmentally. He suggested that development could be studied in different areas with different developmental forces; in pyhlogenesis (before man becomes a cultural being), in sociohistorical development (when humans increasingly become cultural beings) and in ontogenesis (the development of the child).

In these spheres development takes place according to different principles. In phylogenesis it is above all the survival of the most well adapted that regulates development, in sociohistorical development the driving developmental forces are regulated by sociohistorical principles and ontogenetic development is characterized by an interplay of biological and sociocultural forces.

In addition to this Vygotsky also wrote about development of behaviours within a short time-span, e.g. a few experimental sessions in a learning experiment. He called this micro-genetic development. I will use the concept here in a slightly different way than Vygotsky, it is especially the idea to study something while it develops within a short time-frame that I want to connect to. It seems at least theoretically possible that within a shorter time-span study how a learning environment can development in an inclusive direction.

How can one do this?

If we decide to study the micro-genesis of inclusion it is of paramount importance to first define what we mean by inclusion in the context of the study. We could for example define inclusion as the development of a learning community. We could by this mean that the pupils increasingly are orienting towards each other in a respectful and constructive manner and if a sense of “we” develops it is an indication that a community is developing. If we further can show that the interaction is beneficial to learning we can speak about development of a learning community.

Group work seems to be a beneficial means to develop community and cooperation even if there of course are other means. If we choose to study group work we need to video-tape the interaction. So many things go on in interactions that cannot be grasped by an audio - recording alone.

How can we more exactly decide if an inclusive micro-genesis takes place? The best thing is of course if we can make a before- and after examination of the pupils´ knowledge within the knowledge area covered by the group work and also an assessment of the pupils´ views on cooperation before and after the group work.

There is also a possibility to analyse the development of the interaction by making a sequential analysis of the video-tape. Are the pupils increasingly orienting towards each other? In this instance we cannot fully grasp how each individual pupil experience the group work. It is also possible that with the help of video-film analyse how the group acquire the knowledge content of the lesson, but again it will be more problematic to analyse the development at the level of the individual.

From the perspective of inclusive education it is of course beneficial if the development of a “we” is not constituted in antagonism to other “we” in the classroom but instead opens up possibilities for a larger “we”. Moreover, we must never forget that inclusion implies that the individual got to have a space, which sometimes can be opposed to the common goal.

When studying the microgenesis of inclusion we can increase our understanding of how processes that lead to the development of community and learning is initiated and sustained, and those processes of course have to be analysed in relation to tendencies to segregation and rupture.

What can we learn?

I believe that this type of research can be very relevant to educational practice. It aims to very concretely identify and analyse inclusive and segregating processes in the everyday work of schools. It can perhaps be characterized as ”good practice” research at a micro-level in the concrete classroom. It is important to recognize that this way to study inclusion is yet unrealized and it is hard to know exactly what methodological challenges that will be met. Yet, it seems to be a road worth to travel.


Göransson, K. & Nilholm, C. (2014). Conceptual Diversities and Empirical Shortcomings - A Critical Analysis of Research on Inclusive Education. European Journal of Special Needs Education , 29:3, 265-280.

Nilholm, C. & Alm, B. (2011). An inclusive classroom? On inclusiveness, teacher strategies and children´s experiences. European Journal of Special Needs Education, 25(3), 239-252.

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