Saturday, 22 November 2014

Inclusive Learning part two (Inclusive Learning) by Dyslexia Toby © 2014
We need to really take a long look at the way we formulate strategies for early reading skills… we cannot put the cart before the horse any longer.  In the early platforms of learning we put teachers under huge pressure with big class sizes and this stretches them to the limit.  Why can’t we reshape the provision and increase resources at this early stage?

If children are going to learn to master these early skills, this is paramount.  More attention can be applied to important areas like speaking and listening skills, which is such a critical part of early literacy skills.
Children need to develop and improve fine motor skills if they are to even hold a pencil or pen correctly; many with dyspraxia struggle as it is to write long sentences.  I can remember seeing children in my own classes, both Junior and Senior shaking their hands back into life and again looked upon as being simply disruptive.  Even in my early days of teaching I used to witness this, albeit in a more discreet manner than in the days when I was taught.
Looking at what makes those with dyslexia and dyspraxia struggle with language is the huge variation in the sounds within words.  Many are fine with ‘Cat…Sat…Rat’, however the introduction of multi-syllabic words such as ‘Church…Nurse…Enjoy’ really need time to explain. Some are strong believers in teaching whole words and that is fair enough; however, we need to look at the sheer bank of words that we expect people to learn and indeed words they will have to learn when there is no one around to explain that word or the way it’s constructed.
Children and adults with a learning need have many ways in which they subconsciously circum-navigate the learning process.  The brain is an extremely effective power house in all of us and well capable of learning new things; in fact much of what I learnt was through teaching myself in the manner which I could understand.  One thing I mention over and over again is the need for at least 35% of the population to overlearn.  Why?... well it’s not just dyslexics that have problems within the learning environment, there are many with slow processing like those with dyslexia and those with short concentration spans such as those with ADD and ADHD.
Does overlearning cause frustration?   No… we need to introduce a variety of stimuli to get across the required subject material.  Given the resource and the class size, this will be such a buzz for teachers and an all-round win win with fully engaged students.
Indeed, many educational and neurological researchers recognise that the biggest problem for those adults and children with dyslexia is not so much their condition, but recognition of conditions within education and indeed on into employment.  The current education system is so dependent on the ability to memorise both facts and figures and the need to meet certain milestones at young ages in order to meet standards in the curriculum and this leads them to lose confidence, self-belief and the willingness to keep on trying with in the school setting.
Another thing I have mentioned is making parents an equal tutor, not an extra tutor and this can be achieved by linking homework directly to the work done in the day… certainly in the early years. We can also look at keeping the subjects for homework separate on different days, so children don’t get confused with subjects crossing over and this is known to improve retention. So many parents tell me that their children score highly in the Friday spelling test only to forget the spellings the following week as they rehearse for the next Fridaytest. This can be seen from poor test scores in set tests and end of years SATS, STen, Drumcondra, etc.
If we look at all those brilliant builders, architects, painters, chefs, musicians and actors that all have some type of learning need, ask yourself the question… how did they manage that?  How were Mozart and Leonardo Da Vinci well beyond their years in creativity?  They taught their selves through overlearning and, without realising it, their brain adapted to a different way of processing than that of the normal linear route.
Why can’t we reduce class sizes down to say 10-12… half the size they are and when the children have built these valuable skills, then we can then introduce them to larger sizes.  We will very quickly start to see quality wins over quantity and, in the long run, have a much less disruptive classroom, brighter students and a more effectively employed workforce… not to mention less disaffected, more connected and less vulnerable adults.
It is well researched and statistics back up the fact that many of those disaffected end up on the wrong side of the law… this cost as well as that of non-taxpayers will far outweigh the cost of increasing resource to early years.  We need people with long term vision to see this and move it forward.

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Thursday, 6 November 2014

Let’s look at Inclusive Classrooms…what does that mean?  Part one by Dyslexia Toby © 2014

The definition might suggest many things. Let’s take a look - Including or covering all the services, facilities, or items normally expected or required.

The definition of inclusive education is… ‘Inclusive education is a process whereby the school systems, strategic plans and policies, adapt and change to include teaching strategies for a wider more diverse range of children’.
Equality and diversity that encompasses all and is not rigid, it can move with the times.

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Students are those with a physical disability or specific learning need and would be better placed in main stream education and we could say all students in education would benefit from an inclusive learning environment...
Making an Inclusive Classroom effective  and areas that breed successful integration:

• Allow all Students the opportunity to be active, not passive, learners. Interaction can be aided by skilful teaching… if a nervous student gives part of an answer, help them to expand or maybe add some suggestions and make sure the answer is acknowledged… either verbal recognition or on the whiteboard.

• All students should be encouraged to make choices as often as practical/possible. A good teacher will allow students some time to flounder, as some of the most powerful learning stems from taking risks and learning from mistakes.

• Feedback from parents is as important, as not all students will tell you how they feel about their learning experience.
• Trust is a big one… go slowly as you move towards the inclusive teaching practice and allow students to feel comfortable about the new style of learning. Discipline is still required to hold this together.
•Students with disabilities must be free to learn at their own pace and resource for note taking and readers for exams needs to be in place. Make sure you have a comprehensive course folder (this is so important for supply teachers coming in).
•All students need to taste success… lesson plans and learning objectives need to be very relevant and attainable with targets that are measurable.
Front load courses where possible, as students become jaded towards the end of the terms and academic year.
Facilitator first, Teacher second:
The role needs to reflect an interested partner that is in the room to inspire and encourage learning to take place. This is achieved by structuring lessons that flow freely and are full of interaction between students and facilitator/ teacher, keeping the class manageable and on course and in line with the syllabus by accurate and relevant questioning. Encourage by giving a slightly incomplete answer to a scenario and getting the students to add to or give alternative answers.

Always take into account learning styles that will cover all learners in the group and if not in one lesson, some rotation to stimulate all learners. Use the board freely and take a back seat on occasions and allow students to present their findings… start to use micro groups to research pieces of work and then pull this altogether and give an evaluation of the task. Use brain dumps and let them go for break after they have written on the board or answered a question. This acts as a little treat and stimulates responses from all in the group.

If resources are tight maybe you could get some help from a panel of parents/parents association to make this more achievable.
How would I recognise an Inclusive Classroom?
The room would include lots of visual resources and have an active/positive feel to it. Furniture in micro groups or horse shoe to make the students feel part of the group… lots of large and small group activities built into the lesson plan.
Observation of a range of exercises that will encompass all lesson styles with students actively involved… role play is a great way to stimulate learning.
Interactive whiteboard with suitable software and a teacher that occasionally sits back and lets the students take turns to direct class.
The students are all informed of the session/lesson aims.
Sessions are well planned to keep students engaged… allows the learners at all levels to gain knowledge from the session.
Class rules are a great idea if agreed at the start of the year/term… let them feel part of the decision making process:
1) Acceptable noise level
2) Time keeping
3) Use of toilets and hygiene
4) Tidying classroom and work areas
5) Temperatures (this will vary from child to child) - try to strike a happy medium.
6) Anti-Bullying
7) Mentor for new students
8) Buddy system for someone who misses a lesson
It is important that learning is constantly checked… random sampling of homework should take place on a regular basis… brain dumps (encourage students to answer questions based on lesson content at the end of lesson). The whiteboard can be used for this.
Keep an eye on quality during the early days of transition and don’t give up… It WILL work!

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