Teaching children with any degree of special educational need is not meant to be a daunting prospect. There are no magic formulas for immediate success but there are a range of things we as teachers can do to make learning for our students something that doesn’t have to be a negative experience. Our job as a teacher is to inspire, educate and motivate and what follows are just a few simple changes that could take place in every lesson.
- Giving instructions.
When giving instructions, make sure that the volume of instruction is kept to a minimum for each task to assist students who may have poor auditory and short term memory. If instructions exceed 3, they really would be better written down and displayed. This way it is clear what has to be done and when.
- Checking understanding.
After issuing general instructions to the whole class, ask individuals questions to check understanding. Although this may seem obvious, do not ask ‘do you understand what you have to do’? Students will more often than not say yes just to get you off their backs. Get the students to explain what they will do first, and then what next to see that they have comprehended the task and are about to implement the correct strategy.
- Setting homework.
Homework should always be a planned activity and not an afterthought. If it’s planned it can be given at any point in the lesson. The earlier homework is set the more time that students have to make sure it is noted correctly. Leaving homework until after the bell or in the closing few minutes of a lesson is likely to result in it not being done or being done incorrectly.
- Making progress.
Make it very clear to each student what constitutes progress for them. Getting one more mark on a test than last time is progress. Students should not be under the impression that they are expected to perform at the same pace and level as the rest of the pupils in the class.
One of the best strategies I have employed as a pastoral leader and Special Educational Needs Co-ordination is probably one of the most logical. In fact, thinking about it, most of what I do in school is about common sense. I wouldn’t necessarily call myself an expert problem solver, just an experienced one and my learning is based on the rich experience of the students I have had the pleasure to work with. I have always maintained that building a relationship with the young person and their family from the outset is vital to ongoing success. It’s useful to know what the ‘hooks’ are with the young people we work with. Knowing how we can focus the work we set on the interests and strengths of the students rather than devising mundane generic tasks will always help motivation. It’s important to get updates from parents so I invite and encourage regular communication. I look to the parent as the expert when it comes to the young person and the information I gather is key. Any school worth it’s salt will welcome communication from parents so please don’t wait to be contacted by your child’s school. Be proactive and arrange a meeting to share information you might not think is relevant but could actually reveal little gems of information that can unlock massive future potential. Why not make a real impact and send your child’s school a postcard telling them of your som or daughters latest successes or achievements from home?
During my last 15 years in school I have met thousands of young people, hundreds of parents and hundreds of like-minded professionals who share (to a greater or lesser extent) my aim of giving young people the tools required to access the education system upon entry (however much we agree or disagree with the central establishment at the time) and exit it as successful learners able to make the transition to employment and sustainability. I don’t yet have children of my own and I am certain that when I do, the decisions I make as a father will be as difficult as those I have helped parents and young people make during their educational journey. What I love about education and learning is that no two learners are ever the same and the challenges faced by each learner and their family are unique. However, there are a number of common themes I have addressed over the years and I will begin to address a range of them in no particular order. Since I took on the role of Special Educational Needs Coordinator in 2008, I have learnt masses about a range of needs spanning the moderate to the complex, yet my approach has always been the same. As I begin to upload more and more posts you will hopefully be able to relate to some with your own experience and context in mind and begin to see a recurring pattern of pragmatism and creativity. As you will have seen already, I will try to include hyperlinks to websites I think may find of use. There are lots of websites out there designed to support parents and carers and if you find any of what I post useful please share this and feel free to make comments and ask questions.