Closing the Gap for SEND Learners

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Today, I was excited! The report entitled ‘Closing the Gap? Trends in Educational Attainment and Disadvantage’ (Andrews, Robinson & Hutchinson 2017) was published. I had hoped that the expanding of academies and the creation of free schools might have helped us to close the gap in education like never before. Instead, the picture proved dismal with the “most disadvantaged…over 2 full years of learning behind non-disadvantaged pupils by the end of secondary” and those Higher Attaining students with SEND (Special Educational Needs and Disabilities), neglected.

The word neglect is of course, a very strong word. It suggests that our education system has failed to properly care for and look after the needs of those with SEND. There is an extent to which I agree. It is known that some teacher training programmes did not give enough focus to SEND and there were schools who were focused on C/D borderline students to the exclusion of other groups. However, in some ways, this is changing. The introduction of progress 8, means that the progress of all students matter. Teacher training programmes have also been revised so that teachers have a better understanding of the SEND of their learners. So, I do believe there is a shift in the way that we work with SEND learners. However, I also wanted to highlight some key approaches that could ensure that we are not neglecting those who are struggling to keep up with their peers.

Overlearning

Many students with SEND show that they find it difficult to retain the material they have studied. As a result, it is not a surprise that they “struggle to keep pace with their peers”. One of the key ways in which we can level the playing field for these learners, is to build curriculums which make overlearning possible. Performing a task or using information to the point where it becomes automatic, is said to improve retention. Within our schools and classrooms, we can aid the overlearning of key concepts or tasks by revisiting them throughout the term until students can use these concepts or tasks automatically.

Emotional Regulation

As individuals, we all experience some anxiety. However, for many learners with SEND, these anxieties can lead to challenging behaviour, tantrums and meltdowns. As we know these behaviours become a barrier to learning and progress of that child and the class that they are in. As a consequence, these students are often given detentions or asked to work away from the class. Of course, I am not saying that these consequences should not be applied as I understand that we must not allow the learning of the majority to be interrupted. However, I believe that we must also support these learners to constructively express and regulate their emotions. If students are able to manage their emotions, it is possible that they become better able to focus and contribute to their lessons. If they are focusing and have a good working memory, then their struggle to keep up with their peers could be reduced. Therefore, if we want to ensure that our SEND learners aren’t being neglected or endlessly struggling, we should seek to use aids such as 5 point scales, social stories and ABC (antecedent-behaviour-consequence) charts, amongst other tools to help them to manage their feelings.

Emotional regulation and overlearning are just two approaches that we can use to level the playing field with our SEND learners. If we can support them to be less anxious whilst finding it more automatic to engage with concepts and tasks, it is possible that they will struggle less to keep up with their peers. This will in turn help these learners to develop their confidence as successful learners. Additionally, by helping these students to regulate their emotions, they are able to recognise and use a range of strategies that help them to respond constructively in a range of situations whether in or outside of school. Of course, these approaches might mean shifts in our curriculum or investments in staff training on how to help students to regulate their emotions. However, if the end result is to have students who can manage their emotions and make good progress, it must be surely worth the cost. Right?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Building Automaticity in Handwriting

Loving this!

The Stable Oyster

English teachers seem to attract a lot of comments about students’ handwriting. Parents are often keen to discuss it at parents’ evenings, often pushing it as a discussion point over other important areas of their child’s progress. Other subject teachers often feel (sometimes correctly) that handwriting is indicative of literacy levels and sometimes (incorrectly) that it’s indicative of academic ability. I sometimes resent the frequency of these comments; literacy is a whole-school issue, yet seems to get dumped at the English faculty door. Literacy is not the same as English Language and certainly not the same as English Literature. I acknowledge crossovers but on a bad day, I feel aggrieved that my subject is reduced, in the minds of some others, to penmanship.

I do see that the need for written fluency in English is perhaps more pronounced than in other areas. I started to look into it: the literature on the physical processes…

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Three things that happen when your autistic child is different at home and at school

Jekyll and Hyde are exactly the words that I used to describe a pupil of mine this week. This is such a powerful article, raising a really important issue. Thank you.

faithmummy

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I am going through a very difficult time with my son. This morning he was carried to his taxi by my husband and myself kicking and screaming. He was stressed, his sister terrified and I was anxious and worried.
I haven’t called the school and asked if he is ok because I know what they will say.
He is not like that in school

Reports from school don’t marry with the child at home at all. In school he conforms, is settled and appears happy. At home he can be violent, unpredictable and highly distressed. This creates some problems for school, home and professionals. The great divide between home and school is a huge challenge and I am not alone in struggling with this.

When my autistic child is different in school it makes parents feel they are to blame.

When the common denominator for the challenging behaviour…

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CHAMPS and the Compliance Classroom

I really enjoyed reading this. Thanks for following my post. I’ll certainly be keeping an eye out for your writing! Powerful!

Ryan Boren

My stomach dropped when I saw CHAMPS at our elementary school. “Eyes front, knees front, closed mouth” leapt off the wall and rose from memory. I was in school in the 70s and 80s. Some teachers were really into table readiness and proper student posture, and some principals thought a paddle made them persuasive. Compliance was the soul of their pedagogy. Those are not fond memories. I was an undiagnosed autistic in a culture without the vocabulary to understand me or help me understand myself. But I understood authoritarians well enough. They are a straightforward grok.

I handled the thoughtless compliance better than many of my peers. I could disappear into myself and hide in almost still silence. The tugging of my hair betrayed my perpetual anxiety and my yearning to scratch my scalp. In the head beneath the scalp I wanted to scratch and the hair I wanted to…

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The ‘Show Sentence’

This is flipping amazing! I tend to model paragraphs or sentences periodically but there is certainly greater magic in the daily. Thank ‘s for sharing!

Tabula Rasa

The Michaela approach to writing about literature involves building up sentences by combining pupils’ knowledge of poetic, theatrical and rhetorical techniques with memorised quotations, memorised facts and academic vocabulary. Through lots of guidance, we are able to elicit some pretty good sentences from the class, before letting them loose to write their own. I call this a ‘Show Sentence’. I do these pretty much every lesson so they get plenty of writing practice.

Below is a demonstration of this approach in action in a lesson. To provide a context, this would take place after they have read, discussed and annotated the text, and have memorised key quotations. I would most likely be scribbling this on the whiteboard as they go.

Year 8 (lowest set) Lesson: Shakespeare’s Macbeth

Teacher: “Fair is…?”

Pupils [chanting in unison]: “…foul and foul is fair: hover through fog and filthy air.”

Teacher: Super! Which techniques does…

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Marking in Perspective: Selective, Formative, Effective, Reflective

Loved this! Marking is about formative comments NOT grades! Cheers to moving kids on and closing gaps!

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Marking in Perspective: Selective, Formative, Effective, Reflective

Context and Motivation

I’m feeling relieved, smug and virtuous because I’ve just marked some books. It feels good because a) it was overdue and, hence, was having that ‘albatross’ effect; b) for a change I am looking forward to going into my class tomorrow without feeling guilty and most importantly c) because I feel like I’ve renewed a connection with my students’ learning in a way that is hard to do any other way; I’ve done something worthwhile which always feels good.

To be absolutely clear, I am a Dylan Wiliam devotee; you won’t catch me doing marking slavishly because someone tells me I should or because it looks good; I only do marking if I think I need to – and this only if I think it will make a difference. I expect my staff to have the same attitude. I’m convinced…

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SENDT: Autumn Awakening

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It’s been a while since I’ve written about my journey. Yet, I think of my students almost everyday. I think of what makes them sad; I think of what makes them happy; I think of what I can do each day to assure their progress.

I listen to the news, always with an ear for them. I’m always trying to find out something new that I can share and enthuse them with. In class, I tell them “we’re a team” and after saying this, Mr Cheeky announces: “No, we’re not a team. We’re a family!”

In them, I see the circle of life. The better I am with them, the more strategies I use, the more I learn, the more I am able to guide and grow my own little man into the person I want him to be. There are so many fruits to this symbiotic relationship of teacher and pupil, tutor and tutee.

Regardless of politics, boohoos and tears, they are the highlight of my teaching career. Their commitment to progress, their undeniable resilience in the face of endless anxiety gives me courage. Their very presence forces me to reach beyond myself and encounter new and exciting ways of teaching; being at peace; experiencing joy!

SENDT: Autumn Awakening

img_6487It’s been a while since I’ve written about my journey. Yet, I think of my students almost everyday. I think of what makes them sad; I think of what makes them happy; I think of what I can do each day to assure their progress.

I listen to the news, always with an ear for them. I’m always trying to find out something new that I can share and enthuse them with. In class, I tell them “we’re a team” and after saying this, Mr Cheeky announces: “No, we’re not a team. We’re a family!”

In them, I see the circle of life. The better I am with them, the more strategies I use, the more I learn, the more I am able to guide and grow my own little man into the person I want him to be. There are so many fruits to this symbiotic relationship of teacher and pupil, tutor and tutee.

Regardless of politics, boohoos and tears, they are the highlight of my teaching career. Their commitment to progress, their undeniable resilience in the face of endless anxiety gives me courage. Their very presence forces me to reach beyond myself and encounter new and exciting ways of teaching; being at peace; experiencing joy!

Building Readers – A Post-secondary Perspective

As Secondary English Teachers our heart is often on inspiring our students to engage with the texts being studied. In this regard, I believe we have been highly successful but when it comes to teaching a child how to read, we simply do not know how to do it. Segmenting and blending for us are linked more to our Sunday Night Baking Sessions rather than to ways that we can teach our kids to read. This must change!

In the paper entitled ‘Reading: The Next Steps’, Nick Gibb points out that in 2009, only 1 in 10 of those who failed to reach a Level 4 in Reading were able to go on to attain 5 good GCSEs. We can not ignore the reality: if our kids can’t read, their chances of success are severely limited.

So we must build readers in our classrooms, we must lift our struggling readers from the fringe and place them deep into the mix of things.  To take this from talk to reality, it is incumbent upon us all to:

  1. Learn systematic synthetic phonics
  2. Offer 20 minute synthetic phonics lessons to all students on a ‘Level 3’ or below in our schools
  3. Utilise synthetic phonics activities as starters in mixed ability and lower attaining groups (so teach the sounds, link to key words and then ask students to apply this by using the key word in the lesson)
  4. Train our high attainers to teach synthetic phonics to their peers
  5. Utilise written spelling tests on a weekly basis
  6. Model the segmenting of words when writing on the whiteboard
  7. Ask your students to read aloud and to sound out and blend words that they might find difficult

Unless we do this, it is undoubtable that our students will continue to be left behind. We can not afford to let this happen. Additionally, de-stigmatising the use of synthetic phonics in our secondary schools is also crucial, which is why it is essential to use it in our starters and make it a regular part of classroom practice.

Bon Voyage!

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