Master Narrative and Counter-narrative

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Chapter 2 – Literature Review

Chapter overview: The counter-narrative of transition, alternative and lesser considered conceptions of the topic, can best be appreciated in light of the master narrative, commonly held values, beliefs, and perspectives. The master narrative of transition is portrayed in the United States, where transition has been federally mandated for over 30 years, including internationally influential frameworks, interventions, and large-scale, longitudinal research. Then, three domains are positioned for their ability to conceive transition differently: (a) studies on students’ perspectives about their own transition; (b) the capability approach, a novel framework through which transition is viewed; (c) Aotearoa New Zealand as country where transition is seen less as procedural steps for the exit from school, and more about a person’s future within an inclusive society. Research questions are aligned with the argument arising from the reviewed literature, and culminate in a counter-narrative of transition.

Master Narrative and Counter-narrative

Master narratives or dominant discourses (Mishler, 1995) frame individual and societal beliefs, experiences, and values. For example, the master narrative of disability being understood as different from ‘normal’ functioning, essentially the medical conceptualisation of disability, has led to physical and social exclusion of many with significant disabilities (Harter, Scott, Novak, Leeman, & Morris, 2006). Silences of disability, as previously articulated, have been the historical master narrative of disability.
The counter-narrative is an argument that disputes commonly held beliefs or truths. Counter-narratives do not erase historical master narratives. Rather, counter-narratives give voice to those who otherwise are not commonly heard, and additionally, share novel points of view not often considered (Lindemann-Nelson, 2001). Essentially, counter-narratives can offer a new way of thinking about topics, such as transition.
Counter-narratives of transition can best be appreciated, however, in light of a master narrative. Therefore, a master narrative of transition will be articulated by way of the United States (US) where transition has been federally mandated for over 30 years through Individuals with Disability Education Act (IDEA) and prior, by the Education for All Handicapped Children Act. During this time, seminal frameworks to conceptualise transition have been brought forward, such as Quality of Life (Halpern, 1994) and Kohler’s transition taxonomy (1996). Additionally, widely researched transition interventions of person-centred planning (Holburn et al., 2000) and self-determination (Wehmeyer, 1995) have dominated transition practices. Nicely bookending these frameworks and interventions are two waves of the largest scale study of transition for individuals with disability, the National Longitudinal Transition Study (NLTS and NLTS-2).

Constructing a Master Narratives of Transition

In order to collect and critically analyse the vast body of transition research from the US, a systematic review was conducted guided by Kohler’s transition taxonomy (1996; Kohler, Gothberg, Fowler, & Coyle, 2016). In identifying relevant work to include for review, care was taken not to prioritise one transition outcome over another (e.g., employment, post-secondary education). Multiple resources were searched, including articles referenced by Kohler et al. (2016), and Google Scholar searches on five primary-practice taxonomy categories (Kohler, 1996). Where relevant, empirical research is described alongside nationally representative outcomes data by way of findings from the NLTS and NLTS-2. The first wave, NLTS, tracked 10,369 youths in 1985 who were, at the time, between the ages of 13 to 16 years old. The second wave, NLTS-2, focused on a sample of 11,276 students exiting school in 2000. Each study followed students for 10 years.
Kohler’s taxonomy of research-based services is represented in Figure 2.1 and includes: student-focused planning, student development, programme structure, interagency collaboration, and family involvement. The five interconnected areas encompassed all aspects of education, and included a basis for planning, evaluating, and promoting transition effectiveness. Kohler viewed transition planning not as a part of transition, but as a required foundation. Since it has been found that post-school outcomes improve when students with disabilities, educators, families, community members, and organisations, all work together to implement a broad perspective of transition planning (Kohler et al., 2016), Kohler’s five primary-practice categories frame this review of transition literature.
Student-focused planning.
Student-focused planning involves individualised education plan (IEP) development, planning, and student participation, and was considered the centrepiece of Kohler’s taxonomy (Cobb & Alwell, 2009). Cobb and Alwell (2009) conducted a systematic review of 31 studies involving 859 youths with a wide variety of disabilities using Kohler’s transition taxonomy.
Findings showed student involvement in their own transitions improved transition outcomes for youth with disabilities. Student involvement, however, is challenging to achieve in practice. Challenges, similar to the difficulties of centralising students within their own transition planning (Hetherington et al., 2010), have also been found within IEP meetings (Martin et al., 2006). Across 764 IEP team members within 130 middle- and high-school transition IEP meetings, it was found that “without specific IEP meeting instruction, students attending their meetings do not know what to do, do not understand the purpose or what is said, and feel as if none of the adult participants listen to them when they do talk” (p. 300).
Grigal, Test, Beattie, and Wood (1997) evaluated the transition components of IEPs for 94 students between the ages of 18 to 21 years with mild-to-moderate mental retardation and emotional/behavioural disorders. The authors compared the documents with policy mandates, such as IDEA. Although the majority of transition components complied with policy, they lacked elements reflective of best practice. More specifically, transition plans stated goals in major outcome areas (education, training, employment, recreation, and residential), however the quality of the plans in those areas was ranked only adequate to minimal. Most included vague transition plan goals, such as “will explore jobs” or “will think about the best place to live.” Overall, the goals did not provide the transition team with specific process steps to facilitate students’ successful entrance into their adult life.
In another study, an analysis of transition plans for students with disabilities was conducted across 24 school divisions in the state of Virginia for 84 public school students, ages 14 to 21 with significant disabilities (Getzel & deFur, 1997). Findings showed 15% of students with significant disability were involved in the development of their plans, though only a third of the total sample were present at their own IEP meeting. Such participation rates were found to be significantly lower than for students with mild or moderate disabilities.
Taken together, studies on IEPs show that participation and attendance of students with significant disability at meetings is rare and the planning for transition is vague.


Student development.

Student development involves the following domain areas: assessment; academic skills; life, social, and emotional skills; employment and occupation skills; student supports; and instructional context. Data on these domains come from NLTS presented in numerous formats: (a) for the collective group of students with disability, (b) for a range of disability classifications that culminate in a close approximation of significant disability, and (c) comparisons between NLTS and NLTS-2 to demonstrate changes over time.

Chapter 1 – Introduction
Silences of Significant Disability
Identity Statement
Significant Disability and Aotearoa New Zealand
Chapter 2 – Literature Review
Master Narrative and Counter-narrative
Student-focused planning.
Interagency collaboration.
Programme structure
Exploring Counter-narratives of Transition
Research partnerships.
Chapter 3 – Methods and Procedures
Research Questions
Research Design
Site-based strategy
Human participant ethics
Chapter 4 – Findings: Case Narratives 
Capability discussion
Capability discussion
Chapter 5 – Findings: Trialling and Silos
Trialling: The Trials of Transitio
Conclusion: Brokerage triallin
Conclusion: Outcomes trialling.
Systems silos
Chapter 6 – Discussion and Conclusion
Findings Interpreted

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