A friend works in a special school for severely disabled children 4-19, an incredibly challenging role. In discussion recently we were exploring ideas within teaching and learning. It soon became apparent that, in order to support his learners to make progress, he had to effectively “get inside the heads” of each individual, to try to understand as well as possible what made each of them “tick”, especially those with severe communication difficulties. Inevitably there was a small element of trial and error, but with 1:1 ratios, any “misconceptions” could be addressed immediately.
I have some student teachers working in a school for moderate learning difficulties, each child unique in their presentation of need and their home environment. These students have to get to know the children really well to be able to develop appropriate plans for learning.
The notion of what makes children tick is an important one. Misunderstand this and even the most well-meaning adult can cause a situation to escalate.
Anyone watching either Educating Essex or Educating Yorkshire cannot fail to see adults seeking to understand the individual children. Even then, nothing can prevent a flare-up.
After my summer assessment visits to London schools, I reflected on these schools and their personalised, rich curriculum. Their reasoning was based on their analysis of their children’s needs. This led me to speculate about the point at which personalisation is embedded in practice.
- If you do not see the need to differentiate, you will not do so.
- If you believe that differentiation is a matter of simpler tasks for less able, that is all you will do.
- If you think that an additional adult support is available, this is often portrayed as differentiation. If no extra adult, no differentiation.
- If you view the class as a set of smaller groups with similar characteristics, you may seek to challenge them individually at different levels.
- If you see the smaller groups as mixed ability groups of individuals, then you might see how to challenge at a personal level, modifying the group expectation.
Thinking is an essential component of learning; without it a learner would not exist, except in the most passive form, the stereotypical “empty jug”.
How can we ever know what is going on in a learner’s head, unless there are opportunities for them to express their ideas cogently, with the view that all expression is a “draft thought”, capable of challenge and alteration? This can occur in writing, but writing is likely to have already gone through a thought process before being produced. However, seen as a draft, writing can be supportive of developmental conversation, orally or through effective marking.
Therefore talk would appear to be a major component of learning experience. To make real progress in learning, learners need to make sense of both what they know and how they know it. They need to have a partner relationship to ensure they become independent producers, not just passive consumers of learning.
Working with a year two class, I asked a group of children to unpick how they thought their way through a multiplication equation, step by step instructions, which they then asked a peer to follow, as a check mechanism. This produced quite deep discussions and ironed out a number of misconceptions on the way, especially as they were identified and then easily addressed.
Science with a year four class entailed a challenge to set up a fair test to find the best paper to send a parcel through the post. Having had earlier experience of fair tests, groups of four were given time to come up with a proposal of how to proceed with the test, then time to present this to others. Shared thinking ironed out issues and allowed all to proceed.
Thinking is supported by language and language is further developed by articulating thinking. Talking things through is the means by which children’s understanding of their own learning is deepened.
The fundamentals of education; thinking and talking?