SENDT Reflections

b558ec7ba439a6ffd0ceb3c4660897f2_special-education-clip-art-special-education-clip-art_500-375This year will make 10 years since I trained as a teacher. It is no wonder then, that I have started to reflect on the journey and what I would have done differently. In one way or another, my students are still with me. Whether they appear on trains or in the drive thru, in a plane or just my memory, I have come to accept that their story will always cling to me. Their lives are continually shaping me.

So, now I wonder, what would I have done differently and below, I’ve taken the time to chart a few reflections:

For the little boy with the veiled anger and buried hurts who was nowhere near the old level 3, I wish I had the time to hear you read. I should have given you more spelling tests and tried to get you out on trips. I should have created word walls and vocabulary lists, set you targets to use new words and make opportunities for you to use them. For you see, recently, it has come home to me that in schools, we are often expecting students to create extended answers. However, if the students do not have the language to do so then getting these answers are near impossible. So before we begin to ask for paragraphs and extended responses, we must ensure that our students have the language to make this a reality.

For the other little boy, the one who should have a diagnosis of autism, I should have chased it for you. I should have gone beyond the rhetoric that your parents were not interested and called them myself. I also saw your loneliness, I saw the anxiety now that must have been chipping away at the dawn of teenage-hood that made you withdraw from your peers. I should have requested that the learning mentors buddied you up with someone. I should have made more time for you, perhaps prepped you with questions at the start of the lesson so that you were more confident answering them as we would go through the lesson. This could have made you more confident, it could have helped your peers to see the possibilities that I will always see in you. I know I placed you near the door, so if ever your fight/flight/freeze impulse flared you would have an easy way to escape. But I regret that now, I should have put you front and centre, directly in my line of sight so that I could forever get to you. I did growl for you though. The minute they hinted at marginalising you, I would snip them back in line but those who seconds in an eternity where I am absent. Your memory tears me up!

And to the students who were always off task, wiggling in your seat and ready to drift off at any moment to near oblivion who I strategically seated next to the quiet intelligent ones to maintain my sanity, you needed a checklist. I simply could have kept you a little more focused by giving you the feeling that you were achieving, that you were making steps. Perhaps, you also needed a sensory aid just to settle you, or a cushion to make you move in your place but I never knew they were out there then. I do now of course and although I would definitely use them, I would still want you to say random things and make me smile.

I remember the young, black boys too who thought they were some kind of ‘bad man’. At every turn, they are ready to swagger and light up the room with some new slang. When they started to lose the plot, have a few too many fights, they could have used a few comic strip conversations to view their thinking and the people they’re arguing with in an objective way. It would have helped them to really think about the world outside of themselves. And I should have found ways to get you mentors from the community, people who could help to show you that the see more in you than you do in yourself.

And for all of you who hated English and reading and writing, we should have spent more time just talking. We should have had more artists in, performed poetry and do presentations. We should have danced, done the olden days equivalent of the dab whilst making rhymes about the things we’ve learnt. I still remember when Freddie  Macha came in for some workshops. Where ever you are, my lovely class, I think you will too.  I know we had fun in the end and that you all tried so hard. You might not all have gotten Cs, but you went far beyond expectations. I’m still saluting you.

And for the little girl with the long black hair, who had started to perform beyond expectations and then suddenly stopped coming in, I should have gotten your parents in and tell them that you’re smart and could go on to do amazing things. It might not have made a difference but I feel now, that I should have tried.

Through it all though, meeting you all has been a blessing. I just wish now that my teacher training had helped me to recognise that meeting the needs of my SEN learners, went far beyond coloured paper, clear tasks and dyslexic friendly fonts. It’s so much more than where you seat them or by differentiating, giving them a simple text. It’s myriad strategies and ways in, realising that each child is unique and forever bringing their own things. And as teachers who are SENDT (Special Educational Needs and Disabilities Teacher), we must identify what they bring and if it is a barrier, we must lead them past it, however gently.



An Old Post on Synthetic Phonics

Is your child that 1 in 5? Studies show that only 84% of 11 year olds achieve a Level 4 in Reading. That means that 16% of Britain’s children will have difficulty recognising relatively simple words on a page and even when they are able to pronounce these words, they might misunderstand what they have read. Is there any wonder then when these same children express a hatred for reading? How much pleasure do you experience when something that seems so effortless to others is a struggle for you? Yet everyday these children struggle to understand these words around them and often times, they fail.

In response to this, the UK Government has embraced the teaching of synthetic phonics. This is a method of teaching reading whereby children learn the sounds of letters and letter combinations before being taught how to combine them to form words. The reliance on this method came about through a study of 300 students in Scotland who were taught using this method and as a result obtained a reading age up to 3 years above their peers. It must also be noted that these students did not show a significant improvement in comprehension and perhaps there lies one of the key concerns about this method. It must also be said that the UK government chose to base its entire approach to Reading on a study that happened only in Scotland rather than throughout the UK. Is it right to have a one size fits all approach to reading? Do we all learn in the same way?

Of course there are other approaches to reading such as analytical phonics where children are taught whole words and then later analyse their constituent parts. It must be said that students are taught to read these words within the context of meaningful text. The reading of a word is therefore not done in isolation, it is immediately connected to the other images or words around it. As a result, there is an implication that this method fosters the development of children’s comprehension skills as it is asking children to use clues in order to arrive at an understanding of the text. For many, this type of phonics is seen as a method that has failed even more of Britain’s children due to the fact that in 2001 when it was blazing in its glory, 25% of students were not achieving a Level 4. Therefore, regardless of our reservations, synthetic phonics seems to be reaping better results. Many would even go further to highlight that even boys tend to do better when using this system of reading. For once, they are not lagging dreadfully behind the girls.

Yet even then, reservations abound. This is not because synthetic phonics doesn’t work but because Ofsted now sees it as the be all and end all of teaching reading. Ofsted has made it crystal clear that primary teachers ‘must’ demonstrate a clear understanding of this process. The government is so serious about this approach that six year olds now have to sit a systematic synthetic phonics test. Already some of these youngsters are being labelled as failures when it comes to reading. Or rather, they are already feeling the pressure of preparing for reading exams at a time when they should be enjoying the journey of reading. It is this one size fits all approach which bothers me. Surely analytical phonics still has a place. Surely some students flourished through this method. If not, 75% of the Nation’s children in 2001 would not have been a level 4 or above in English. Therefore, the government must recognise that individuals learn in different ways; that the same approach does not work for everyone. Yet, I must admit that if every teacher is aware of this approach and uses it well, it is less likely that a child will fall behind if they have to move to a new school. There is also a sense of consistency, the idea that everyone is singing from the same hymn sheet which makes the playing ground of Literacy Education, a fair one.