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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A Hope and A Future

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My baby brother is 16. He is autistic and yes, there is a future for him. It took some time for my mum and I to see the signs but when he was diagnosed, it all became clear. Through it all, we have never once thought that this limits him. Instead, we believe that given time, he will be better than he was before.

Working in special education doesn’t mean that we are teaching students who are underachieving. It means that we are teaching students who might need more processing time. Therefore, as teachers and leaders within SEN, it is important that our expectations remain high, that classwork remains personalised and challenging.

I understand perfectly that some students with Aspergers or ASD might be non verbal. For these students, progress might mean being able to use PECs (Pupil Exchange Communication System) effectively to communicate their wants or needs. However, regardless of need, we must find a way to push them one step further in their journey.

At the heart of this journey is the knowledge of who these young people are. What are their likes / dislikes? What do they repeatedly talk about? At the sound of which word, do they begin stimming with excitement? These are the signifiers. They are a sign of their motivators and something that we should take to heart. Who would have thought that my little brother’s fascination with Thomas the Tank Engine or our repeated journeys on DLR trains would ever be more than that? For many years, it seemed a game, an amusement. To this day, his lists of presents are usually started with another request for a Hornby Train to add to his collection. When he was old enough and thoughtful enough to answer what he wanted to be, his answers would be simple and quick: train driver! So many of my students today have the same answer. Regardless of skill, many of them are so fascinated with the tracks and how they can make this a profession. Yet, so often teachers can dismiss the dream because they seem to come from some place of automaticity rather than careful thought.

When the time came for my brother to start to apply for sixth form, he didn’t quibble or dance about. He knew instinctively that he wanted to study BTEC Engineering because he would get to work on trains. My elation and pride was undeniable not only because he knew what he wanted but because in one way or another, he had been getting ready for this his whole life. When we went with him to tour a possible Sixth Form, he was naming the equipments he saw and telling my mum about their uses. He could easily reference old DT classes and his experience of the equipments. It was in this moment that the last two gifts he requested also made sense. He had wanted Snap Circuits so that he could experiment with creating light and sound in his room. No game, no experience seemed a coincidence and once again, I felt the magic in High Functioning Autism; that almost evolutionary quality of focus that can bring about extraordinary things.

Consequently, my belief once again that every Autistic student should be challenged was reinforced. Although there are many students who might not be able to complete the 5 or 8 GCSEs that are so prized, it is incumbent on how as educators to ensure that students are able to access as wide and as broad a curriculum that is possible. If they are passionate about ICT and Computing, give them the avenue to prepare for this. Even if they are not as strong in Maths and or English, these subjects must be priority as it prepares for a life beyond school and so the level at which this is taught must be appropriate and with sufficient challenge. Beyond this, having access to quality vocational teaching from KS3 must be a priority for all schools because if these students are given the opportunity to produce their Magnum Opus, their potential will be unleashed! They will fly!

I had a conversation with a colleague recently about our Autistic Learners. We agreed that if we said “they can’t, then they won’t”. Therefore, we must make sure that we identify how our learners need to improve and then provide the scaffolding and the steps to get them there. By doing this, we’ll be able to see our learners grow and find the hope and the future that is waiting for them.

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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Mastery is Key

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Recently, I have begun to ponder what a Mastery Curriculum means for SEND learners. On this, Mary Myatt is clear. A mastery curriculum is about “fewer things in greater depth”. When teaching SEND students, this idea is completing freeing. Firstly, because it means that students can have the extra processing time that is often needed for them to be able to fully grasp a concept.

No longer should schools be rushing through topics; instead, educators now have the opportunity to embed and deepen the knowledge and skills of our learners. There is also extended opportunity for those working at a higher level than their peers to begin to use and apply the learnt skill in new contexts. I have no doubt that this is empowering for all learners.

It is therefore crucial for SEND schools to shape their curriculum in a way which has Mastery at its core. In English, this might mean that students are taught topics in a chronological order alongside the explicit teaching of grammar and punctuation. By doing this, learners will have the opportunity to place texts in their contexts and also make links across time. If the learning of new ideas are always interweaved with former learning, the likelihood that these ideas will be remembered and used is inevitably increased.

It is often said that ‘repetition is the mother of learning’. Within a SEND context where students sometimes have difficulty in remembering ideas or concepts, this method would surely be a godsend as they now have multiple opportunities throughout a yearly scheme to utilise and build on former knowledge and skills.

Students with Aspergers often take language literally and of course, sometimes simple statements can be very confusing because of this. Recently, my class has been learning about rounding numbers. One particular student who has shown proficiency at this became stumped when I asked him to circle a number which rounds to 50. Previously, another student became confused when a question asked him to look above and the above section was on the previous page. Despite being a very bright student, they can be stumped by this.

By having a Mastery Curriculum, teachers will have a greater opportunity to expose students to a greater range of terms or statements that are used within the topic area. Exams or tests may consequently become less of a puzzle and these students will have a greater opportunity to demonstrate the skills that they possess.

The potential for improvement in teaching and learning can not be denied. Due to the fact that more time would be allocated to key topics, teachers will be able to present the material in multiple ways. Therefore, presenting topics in a concrete and a sensory rich way before moving on to pictorial and paper based representations is even more possible. This allows learners to have multiple entry points into a topic and provides greater opportunity for learning to be embedded. It’s clear to see that mastery works for students and for teachers.

I am therefore convinced that a Mastery Curriculum possesses innumerable benefits. I am hoping that the value of this is recognised and capitalised on so that all students are able to demonstrate their potential.

The Power in the PIVATS

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I am an English Teacher by trade. I’ve been ploughing the field of the English Education system for quite some time and so, I’ve seen the fads come. I’ve seen them go. So when I first saw PIVATS 4, I was sceptical.

The conversion didn’t take long! I soon recognised that for the world of SEND, it provided a systematic overview of the way that we as teachers can plan and assist our students in achieving the milestones and skills which are so often taken for granted. Regardless of age or ability, there was something there for most learners. There was a step to be attained; a goal to be achieved.

Yet, there are elements which infuriated me! How can a student, whose writing is lively and entertaining and filled with myriad devices be relegated to a stage 2 just because their spelling needs work or their handwriting needs a bit more shaping? You see, with PIVATS, students would have to attain all 5 Performance Indicators for a stage before they are allowed to move to another stage. In the areas that pertain to handwriting and spelling this bothered me profoundly! Yes, I know these things are important. They make the journey of life that much more easier to travel. However, we are alive in one of the greatest centuries ever known to man! We live in a Time where software underlines our typing in red when we get it wrong. So surely, these elements, though important, should never hold students back or give a blighted impression of their intelligence when witnessed in a data field?

Although it still irks, I have moved on from things that I can not change. The serenity prayer of life has helped me to recognise something about this new post- levels world that we live in. Previously, when I worked with a KS3 Assessment Group, I felt that the removal of levels was just another avenue for schools to pretend innovation and recreate the levels from the past. However, as time has past, I have come to realise that there is a life beyond levels. Ironically, PIVATS is central to this.

I started off by giving my students a baseline Maths assessment that would expose their strengths and weaknesses across the Maths Curriculum. Then I developed a colour coded spreadsheet that would clearly highlight where students’ strengths and weaknesses are. Once I did this, I was able to clearly able to see the gaps in knowledge of my students and therefore provide a more personalised curriculum that helped my students to close these gaps. Beyond this, I began to see the potential for me as a classroom teacher. I would be able to use this to identify areas which I might need to approach differently when teaching or areas that required further research before recapping these elements with my students. As an English Teacher, teaching the Maths Curriculum, I have never felt more empowered in my practice.

So yes, there is power in the PIVATS and it does not rest in the name of a stage. It rests in the fact that when used properly, it can truly make way for progress. If used correctly, this can be an assessment tool which helps to show what our students do and do not know and provide a blue print of where we can take each and every one of them. Of course, some may argue that PIVATS are limited. They only go up to what is roughly a Year 4 Equivalent. For some SEND settings this is sufficient. Where it is not, SEND schools and centres must be bolshie and innovative enough to create a comparative year 5 and above equivalent so that no potential is wasted; no potential untapped!

 

 

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!

Tourettes – A School Teacher’s Guide

1 child in every 100 is affected by Tourettes so it is likely that at some point or another, a child with Tourettes may have sat in your classroom. It is a condition where students move and make sounds involuntarily and uncontrollably. The organisation Tourettes’ Action says “Educationally – TS can make it impossible for students to follow what is going on in class”. Of course, Tourettes can be mild so in mainstream education, we may barely notice it. When it becomes extreme, we do what we can and transition these students into special education where we believe they will be a little bit safer and a lot more accepted. Yet, due to the fact that extreme cases are rare they are still a minority within some special education schools. Consequently, even there, students may face “ridicule, bullying and social exclusion”. As a result, schools and teachers must create an approach to caring for young people with Tourettes that builds their confidence and reduce any aspect of social exclusion and bullying.

Schools can of course raise the profile of this disorder by:

  1. incorporating information about disorders such as Tourettes in the curriculum through PSHE lessons
  2. creating assemblies which raises awareness of the disorder
  3. having facilities and systems which enables students to exercise everyday
  4. having a zero tolerance for bullying and make sure that students who bully or ridicule these students are effectively dealt with

Within the classroom, class teachers are often swamped with a sense of urgency. Whether a student has Tourettes or not, we are compelled to push them to secure progress. However, when you ask this child to cut a piece of paper or write a few sentences, she is reduced to a meltdown or uncontrollable rage as they find this task somewhere beyond difficult. Other times when you might ask her to begin an age old activity, she may descend into despair thinking she’s useless and good for nothing and therefore feels unable to complete the task before her. Therefore, as class teachers we must act to build self confidence and to provide the support which will allow these learners to blossom and fulfil their potential. So the question remains: how?

As a class teacher you should:

  1. seat the student close to the door so that they can make a quick exit if  necessary
  2. provide students with a time out card to use if needed
  3. use lots and lots of praise to reinforce positive behaviours
  4. create a book with positive self talk and positive choices
  5. find out what this student is good at and give them ample opportunities to do this
  6. buddy them up with an understanding student to reduce effects of social exclusion
  7. use a bit of humour to help your student to smile and escape feelings of anxiety and stress
  8. never penalise the student for a behaviour that they can’t help

Of course there’s no one size fits all but I’m hoping that whether as a school or a teacher, you will be able to implement a few of these tips that will help your student to feel right at home.

 

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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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