The Training Ground
Essential tips archive
Your planning: colour coding
- Use a colour-highlighted register to help remember specific needs of students (e.g. green = problems with language processing, blue = low attention span). Your SEN/Inclusion/Every Child Matters coordinator may already have this in place as a whole school response to equality and inclusion issues – find out!
- You could also colour-code reading ages (in groups) as well as it shows you the levels of individual reading performance which you can match with the demands of your reading tasks.
- Try planning the seating in your classroom in the same way: who needs to be right at the front under your eye? What is a good place for those who need additional help? Does everyone wear the glasses they need to see the board? Colour-code your seating plan appropriately.
Use the senses
- Learning is best when brought through the modalities of hearing, sight, touch, and movement. It has been suggested that students retain 10% of what they read, 20% of what they hear, 30% of what they see, 50% of what they see and hear, 70% of what they say, and 90% of what they say and do. A cumulative, highly structured, sequential, approach which uses multi-sensory materials and software can therefore be very effective. This is also referred to as visual, auditory and kinaesthetic learning, or VAK.
- Read instructions aloud, even for tests and examinations.
- Change the style of teaching, groupings, etc. during the lesson to keep the activity bright and the students focused.
Repeat, repeat, repeat
- Begin lessons with a review of the previous lesson, an overview of topics to be covered that day, and/or an outline of the lesson.
- Give new information more than once.
- Use games or songs that encourage repetition.
- Create summary cards of topic material at the end of each unit to aid in 'overlearning' and revision
- Don’t be afraid of repeating yourself! Repetition is needed to move the information into the short-term memory – and needs to be regularly revisited to move it into long term memory. Remember the Army Sergeant, who when asked how he trained his platoon so well replied, ‘First I tell them what I'm going to tell them - then I tell them it - then I remind them what I've just told them.'
Don’t under-estimate how long some things will take
- Leave time for a plenary at the end of each lesson.
- Ensure you have built in long enough for students to take notes (etc.).
- Recognise that those with learning difficulties may take up to three times longer to learn and will tire quickly. They have to try harder, which can be exhausting.
Not everyone gets things first time round
- Offer review/revision/extra sessions when your students can consult you individually
- Provide a ‘post box’ where pupils can mail you with questions (anonymously, if they choose) that you can then answer in subsequent lessons.
- Encourage students to email you, too: you can reply to the email, or build the answer into the next lesson.
- Remind students that they are probably not the only ones feeling that they need your extra help.
Break down learning into small, sequential tasks
- Give specific examples - either written by you, or created together as a class.
- Provide writing frames or sentence strings - a page could have parts of sentences started periodically down the page allowing pupils to structure their report/essay.
- Attention span tends to lengthen when tasks are short and successful.
Use cueing words and gestures to emphasize points.
Planning for those with Special Educational Needs
- Be aware that the pace of the ‘normal’ class is likely to be too fast for students with SEN because they often need more time to process language.
- Differentiate your expectations of what they should produce, how long they should concentrate and how much they should try by themselves before they seek assistance. Everyone should know their average writing speed – and be working to increase this.
Promote risk-taking in class
Using the board / IWB
- Those who can take risks as they learn prove to be skilful students: challenge learners to go for it!
- Taking risks is one of the most difficult areas for students with special needs: the fear of embarrassment is strong. Look at your strategies for dealing with 'wrong' answers - you could use, 'You have raised a very interesting point' or 'Thank you, I hadn't thought of that...'
Ensure that pupils know the purpose of tasks. Students need to know what they are doing and why.
- Encourage expectations of success by having clearly set objectives.
- Tell students exactly what they need to do each lesson (the minimum number of questions to answer, how many paragraphs to write, how many features to add to their IWB presentation) and how long they have to achieve this.
Can everyone summarise the main points of the lesson?
- It's common for teachers to summarise what has happened in a lesson, but can the students do this?
- Check that they can reproduce a sequence or recap stages of what has been covered or report back to each other or use other summarising techniques: if they can remember the 'story' of the lesson, it will help them remember what they have learnt.
- Another effective way of checking whether information has been assimilated is to ask students to reproduce what has been learnt in a different format, e.g. prose to a table.
Introduce terminology systematically and teach instructional vocabulary
- Issue a glossary for the technical words we regularly use in English.
- Provide wall displays of key terminology, in a huge font size – either in a list, or words dotted around the room
- Providing a list of topic words/glossary at the beginning of each unit helps parents know what’s going to be covered, helps students to assimilate new vocabulary, and provides material for spelling development.
- Remember that new words also need to be understood. Teach topic-specific vocabulary then assess learning, both for understanding and for spelling and word recognition.
Making your point heard
- Think about the pace of your speech: students with SEN, in particular, have difficulty in following and processing fast speech.
- State your point and revisit it: 'These are the main elements...', 'This means that...' at key points in the lesson
- Make your point seen as well: don't rely only on verbal information - ensure that the main messages are displayed on the board or are visible elsewhere in the classroom too.
Supporting a writing task in class
- Try asking students to leave four of five lines at the top of the page (make a box) to be used for to write down your comments as you walk around whilst they are working...
- ... or give everyone a post-it note, where they can record any queries and you can write suggestions without interrupting the flow.
- Don’t expect the student to listen and do simultaneously.
- Give only one instruction at a time – and do not assume that students always know what to do next.
- Whenever possible, the student should be encouraged to repeat back what they have been asked to do. Their own voice is a very useful aid to memory.
- Give plenty of warning when changes are made to task, or when the task is coming to an end: ‘In 5 minutes – you have two minutes left – finish the sentence you are writing – pens down.’
A student once told me that everyone told her what to do but not when to stop doing it. I now always try to remember to say, 'Read to the end of the paragraph. Now look at this video clip...'
Resources for students with SEN
- Build up a bank of resources for individual students. This will not be your last student with this type of SEN, and you will be more prepared for the next.
- Have the same information presented in different ways - for instance, key words and phrases could be shown on the board, displayed on posters on the walls, 'bluetoothed' to students' phones or recorded as a podcast. You'll be catering for many learning styles and making your message unmissable!
Get them talking
- Ask for important points to be repeated back to you straight away, in students’ own words.
- Get students to make up rhymes or raps of important information – learning them with movement helps too!
- Encourage the students to ask questions, and teach them how to do so. The 'silent student' in your classroom is generally the one you have to ask yourself about: what - and how - are they learning?
Use displays actively
Display and support the use of mnemonic strategies to aid memory formation and retrieval.
- Make displays interactive – include leaves on a ‘poet-tree’ for students to complete with their own favourite poem; leave blank bricks on a spelling wall for words to be added as you come to them...
- Let students develop their own word bank/dictionary, cards, or notebook where they can practice difficult, new, or irregular words. Use them as an individual / group / class activity at the end of a lesson.
- Allow a dictionary at all times (traditional or e-version), and model using one yourself...
- ... but remember that dictionaries are not particularly helpful to “bad spellers” – you have to be a “good speller” to use a dictionary. Electronic dictionaries are wonderful if they have “phonic recognition”: e.g. ‘newmonia’ can be recognised as ‘pneumonia’.
- Creating personal dictionaries can help: the students keep their own record of words they find tricky. Get them to keep a file of personal spellings on their phones.
- Spelling may not be the only problem - taking notes from the board is often problematic too. Starting each line or section with a different colour helps everyone know where they are.
- Leave notes on the board for as long as possible - but don’t leave up notes that are not relevant for the next phase of the lesson, to avoid distracting / confusing students.
- Some software packages allow you to produce your word list for a specific topic and sit it at the bottom of the screen where it can be accessed easily (e.g. Crick Wordbar) – or make your own.
- Write neatly and legibly, using coloured markers to emphasise different sections.
- Encourage students to add their own notes to the board - enlarge their writing on the IWB where necessary to ensure that all can read the text.
- Save notes made on the IWB and email them to students for reference or revision.