I believe in inclusion and I often wonder if we’re providing the best possible academic progress for our SEND learners within mainstream schools. Do we have enough time to spend with them? How can we improve their progress regardless of sets, or mixed ability classes? How can we teach them to the best of their abilities within overcrowded classes, struggling budgets and other daily difficulties?
I consider myself lucky - I am a SEND specialist teacher who has worked at a special school and is now working in mainstream. It’s given me a different perspective and an opportunity to compare and apply various approaches, techniques and views into my teaching practice. The majority of strategies I’ve learnt from specialising can be easily adapted and adjusted to meet our pupils’ needs in mainstream schools. Here are my 10 tips to support your SEND pupils better.
1. Make learning accessible
Try using Rosenshine’s principles of instructions - a set of 10 key findings, which, if incorporated into our teaching practice, could substantially increase the quality of teaching and learning to improve outcomes:
- Begin the lesson with a review of previous learning.
- Present new material in small steps.
- Ask a large number of questions (and to all students).
- Provide models and worked examples.
- Practice using the new material.
- Check for understanding frequently and correct errors.
- Obtain a high success rate.
- Provide scaffolds for difficult tasks.
- Encourage independent practice.
- Plan monthly and weekly reviews.
2. Differentiate & scaffold
Provide learners with opportunities to learn in small steps. Check on their progress regularly and develop their independence as much as possible.
For example, to scaffold a long text reading, you could engage pupils in a discussion of the piece to help their understanding of it, give them a shorter piece to read first, and teach them the vocabulary they need to understand the text before giving them the full reading.
To differentiate, you might give some pupils an entirely different reading (to suit their level and ability), let them choose from several texts (they pick the one that interests them most), or give the class different ways they could complete an assignment (write a traditional essay, draw an illustrated essay in comic form, create a slideshow essay with text and images, or deliver an oral presentation)
3. Revisit, review & retrieve knowledge
Be aware of the limited capacity of working memory. Sequencing and scaffolding tasks must take place simultaneously with revisiting, reviewing and retrieving knowledge in order to transfer it to long term memory.
It may be done as starters, brain breaks during lessons, revising sessions, DIRT (dedicated improvement and reflection time), as plenaries HW, any form of retrieving practice in light of the saying ‘little but often’ will be beneficial.
4. Familiarise the abstract
Jerome Bruner identified three stages of cognitive representation:
- Enactive, which is the representation of knowledge through actions.
- Iconic, which is the visual summarisation of images.
- Symbolic representation, which is the use of words and other symbols to describe experiences.
This emphasises interactive, emotional engagement in learning as an effective factor influencing students’ academic and vocational success.
For maths, I use counters, number cards, coins, dice, beads, straws, multilink blocks, Lego blocks, pictorial representations and bar modelling to make abstract concepts accessible for everyone. The application of this in the classroom is liked by all my learners, not just SEND students.
5. Praise the effort instead of the result
I would like to underline the power of positive reinforcement - praise the effort instead of the result. If we focus on the learning journey, not only the destination, we’ll spread the love of learning and understanding of mistakes as a necessary part of being successful. Which brings me on to tip number 6...
6. Promote a growth mindset
How many times do we hear: I can’t do it, I don’t care, I don’t get it, from our pupils? For a variety of factors they may seem reluctant, unwilling and defiant. We need to remember that the sense of success might not be their ordinary experience. They might anticipate failure instead of being successful, especially if they compare themselves with others. I strongly believe in the power of our mind.
Use the language of ‘yet’ promoted by C. Dweck. I believe that if we as teachers, as significant adult figures promote growth mindset and encourage pupils to learn from their mistakes, they will become resilient, perseverant and hungry of knowledge.
7. Balance physical with digital
Using laptops and tablets can be beneficial and makes learning interesting, accessible and independent; however I’ve noticed that my SEND pupils (as well as other pupils) sometimes prefer the physical sensation of paper and objects over working digitally.
The more we write physically, the more we are emotionally engaged and build connections in the brain which enhances memory.
8. Work closely with SENDco to know your SEND pupils.
Make effective use of support provided by LSAs or/and TAs. I must admit that without them, teaching would be a mammoth task. In order to maximise SEND pupils’ learning, I liaise with the SENDco, with certain LSAs prior to the lessons. I believe that mutual respect and trust is key to effective cooperation with support staff. I would also underline the necessity of familiarising yourself with the SEND register and strategies provided by SENDco.
9. Record your lessons
I have found reflecting on my own practice hugely beneficial. I was afraid at first but now I use it to see the bigger picture; to analyse my performance as an outsider. For this, my school and I use IRIS Connect. Since watching myself back, I’ve become more vigilant of my SEND learners, more patient, more encouraging and have even started implementing a deeper questioning approach. The effect this method of self-reflection has had on my SEND learners includes:
- Increased accessibility which makes learning visible
- Promoted independence
- Increased 1-1 lesson interventions
- Development of fluency
10. Share good practice with colleagues
As a school, we promote a positive learning culture by encouraging learning walks and sharing video reflections through IRIS Connect. (link to creating positive school culture) Using IRIS Connect’s private sharing mode, I can share examples of good practice with my colleagues as well as learning from their classroom experiences so I can constantly develop as a teacher. We also share good practice during meetings, whole school training days, as well as running a little podcast where we share our thoughts and findings. We have found it particularly helpful with professional development for special education teachers.
The benefits of sharing in this way gives you the perspective of an out stander where you can see yourself in action and more objectively analyse your performance and your learners.
As J. Hattie said: "We teachers are change agents, so if you are not happy, satisfied or pleased with something just change it, improve it, look for ways to make it better for the good of your pupils and your own. Change starts with us."
Written by guest blogger Dr Maria Jagiello, Honywood School