I like workshops that evolve into discussions between all those present, and feel that our ideas are enriched by sharing them with others. That is why, even/especially when I am facilitating a workshop, I like a lot of questions and experience sharing. This was the case when I gave this workshop in Biel, which made for a great experience but isn’t easy to write up in a blog post!
Anyway here goes!
A lot of English language teachers are unaware of the significance of many of the acronyms and initialisms that exist concerning learning difficulties, not to mention that it sometimes seems that everything gets a new title every year or so, which doesn’t help. It also makes teachers feel insecure in this domaine, even though they are probably doing a sterling job in the classroom dealing with students on an individual basis.
Anyway, here’s a brief look at some of the themes we discussed in this workshop:
Differentiation means modifying teaching to meet individual students’ learning requirements. This can take several forms:
Differentiation by content – providing different reading texts, worksheets, listening etc. depending on the abilities and needs of students.
Differentiation by process – actually teaching the lesson differently for different students.
Differentiation by production – offering choice of production means for students, for example some would write an essay, others give an oral presentation, etc.
My argument is that all of this is very complicated, time consuming for the teacher, undermining the self-esteem of students, and putting people in boxes ” you get the yellow worksheet and you get the blue one”. I strongly believe the answer to these problems is Inclusive Practices – which I’ll come to in a minute.
SEN means Special Educational Needs and is an umbrella term for learning differences such as dyslexia, dyspraxia, dyscalculia, dysgraphia, ADHD (Attention deficient hyper-activity disorder) or ASD (Autism Spectrum disorder including Aspergers) etc.
SEND means Special Educational Needs and Disabilities and includes SEN as well as visual or hearing impairments and other physical disabilities.
SpLD is Specific Learning Difficulties and is often used as a synonym to SEN.
Inclusive Practices – in the British school system (and perhaps elsewhere) this is used to refer to the policy of having all types of learners in the same class, and not separate lessons for learners with specific needs.
In this workshop, and in general, I use it to mean something slightly different. In our language classes we naturally have students with all different kinds of ways of learning and/or difficulties and for me, IP is a way of providing the same input that will be suitable for all the learners in the class. I’ll explain more in the “How” section below.
This seems like a no-brainer to me, but just for the record reasons for using IP in your class include :
- Easier for teacher to implement
- Helps all students
- Improves self-esteem
- Improves classroom atmosphere
- Uses modern teaching methods i.e. project-based learning
- Why would you not provide the best instruction for ALL your students?
I’d also add that it means you don’t have to investigate whether your students do or don’t have specific learning difficulties and what their “labels” are – language teachers are often not given the same information as class teachers, and in many countries this information is still not easily shared.
There are certain things to think about, that will improve the learning experience of all your students, and by implementing them you can improve the comfort of all your students, whatever their learning needs or language level – in fact you can see that lots of the ideas that suit students with learning differences are actually the same things we are advised to do with low-level learners.
Environment – over-crowded displays can be off-putting, over-bright lights and sounds too so try to think about how to make your classroom a haven for your learners. Added bonus – this means you don’t have to spend hours putting all the students’ work up all over the room!
Instructions – we all know that instructions should be simple, given one after an other, modelled etc. Remember that learners with differences often face short-term memory difficulties, so why not write instructions on board (using symbols) after you’ve given them?
Board work – talking of the board, I think most of us would avoid excessive copying from the board anyway in our class, use the board instead for mind maps, etc.
Hand-outs & worksheets – avoid over-crowding the page, use recycled paper if possible (less glare) and a simple font such as arial or comic sans.
Group work – it has been said of group work that the only thing you learn is that you don’t like working with other people! It doesn’t suit everyone, so apart from oral pair works that require a partner, why not give students the choice of working in ones, twos or threes? Also, if the class size is an odd number, you can fix it so that you work with any student that has difficulty interacting with the others.
Pacing- bear in mind students may come to your class after a long day, or after a long lesson taking notes. Students with learning difficulties often work much harder than other learners, just to keep up. So don’t be afraid to relax the pace a bit and give students a little breathing time when necessary. This can take the form of quiet exercises or free-reading, brainstorming a subject in silence for three minutes before sharing your ideas, etc.
Production- we are lucky that as language teachers we don’t need reams of essays to evaluation learning. Encourage students to produce posters, podcasts, youtube videos, songs, etc and allow them to choose as much as possible.
An easy way of ensuring all your learners have something to stretch them, especially those with higher potential, is a fast finishers box full of activities they can get on with autonomously. Check out my photocopiable book, 100 Activities for Fast Finishers, for ideas that you can cut up and let students pick from when they’ve finished a class task.
These are just a few ideas of what is a vast subject, and I’d love to hear yours below in the comments box!