This study examines the ways in which primary school teachers observe student competence by looking at how curriculum and pedagogical practices are locally organised in the classrooms. It exemplifies the processes through which classroom contexts construct student leaning and produce failure to learn. Practices, related to curriculum design and pedagogy, provide teachers with tools to observe student competence and, as a consequence, to identify students as having learning difficulties.
Data were collected in two Grade 2 classrooms in a primary school in Taiwan. The two classes, with students aged 7 and their class teacher, formed the two cases presented in this study. A combination of qualitative form of enquiry and case study approach was used in collecting and analysing data. Data collection included three aspects: curriculum documents, teaching materials and the data on particular students for their referral and
identification records; classroom observations; and semi-structured interviews with the class teachers, resource room teachers and the students.
There were both similarities and differences in the two classes. First, this research reveals that within a similar curriculum and pedagogical practice, some students are identified as having learning difficulties through classroom observation, checking homework and test results. It found that teachers' beliefs underpinned their construction of what to teach and how to teach, and also impacted on how they interpreted student behaviour and performance factors upon which they identified students with learning difficulties. Second, the two teachers' judgments about student performance in the classroom mainly relied on whether the students were successful in deciphering the teacher's clues, or in linking with the text to get the 'right' answers which the teachers expected in the question-answer activities. For one
teacher, the 'right' answer also needed to match the syntactic and semantic standards of school language. Third, homework performance, as a manifestation of family context, became a very significant index for the two teachers. By checking homework, the two teachers discovered which students were diligent and conscientious and also found out the degree of their parents' support. Fourth, because test results reflected homework performance, the two teachers used the information from test results as a clear criterion to distinguish student competence, especially for one teacher who valued test results highly. Fifth, in the class with more student behavioural problems, student behaviours of resistance or conformity were a focus for identifying learning difficulties. It is suggested that the process of identifying students as having learning difficulties was socially constructed in nature and that such processes were inextricably linked with teachers' beliefs and pedagogical practices.