SPOTLIGHT ON SEND The power of language

In her regular column for Education Today this month, independent Specialist Teacher and Assessor JOANNE GLADDERS turns to our use of language and asks how it can be adapted to ensure that all our young people are supported to achieve their full potential.

As I pondered my article for this month, I read the statement “The power of language” and this made me think about the challenges we face as young people return to our settings. How basic human instinct to reassure, to hug a young child, to place a reassuring hand on a colleague’s arm can no longer be a part of the educational picture. All we have is our use of spoken language and our portrayal of emotions through this. A colleague of my husband’s shared this thought with staff at

his school: “By the end of 2020, depression will be the most prevalent

childhood disorder.” (Barry Carpenter - Professor in Mental Health in Education, Oxford University)

How much more will this situation impact upon our vulnerable young people and those with additional needs? A discussion with a pupil this morning whilst teaching online highlighted the impact further. His key concerns about returning to school are:

• How am I expected to achieve my GCSEs next summer when I am already behind with my work and have missed so much school through no fault of my own? • My teachers will not be able to come and help me with my work when I am stuck. • It just is not going to be the same.

Although we might think that many young people are enjoying

their time at home, research is showing that many are not accessing home learning. In addition, anxiety is starting to set in about our different way of doing everything.

According to ‘Lockdown Anxiety’ from the Royal College of Psychiatrists in May 2020:

• Children have lost their autonomy • Children feel an innate sense of loss and bereavement • Children have been living with a heightened sense of fear

Anxiety is a key block to learning Many of us assume that young people are resilient, but they are not. So, what can we do? How can we use ’the power of language’ to

enhance the learning of our young people and to allay fears? Our choice of language and how we portray our emotions

through this is key to supporting our young people. When we listen to their concerns, do we genuinely listen? Do we fully take on board their concerns? Does our body and emotional language support this? What words do we use? How do we allay fears and instil confidence in their own abilities? What outlets do we give them to say how they feel or to outpour their concerns? How can we support them to make sense of what has happened? Maybe deal with the loss of people they love? As we too adjust, how can we adapt our language to ensure

that all young people and colleagues are supported to achieve their full potential?

July/August 2020

“Learning effectively is too important to be left to chance – effective differentiation is

the linchpin” Regular Education Today contributor KATE SARGINSON, Deputy Headteacher and SENCO, this month looks at differentiation and what it means in practice.

From 2012 the Teachers’ Standards have been in place as the foundation of teacher’s professional practice and conduct. Standard 5 states that teachers are expected to “Adapt teaching to respond to the strengths and needs of all pupils – to know when and how to differentiate appropriately, using approaches which enable pupils to be taught effectively.” The expectations are high; the standards assume that it is possible to meet the needs of all pupils and that teachers have confidence differentiating. But is it easier said than done? Differentiation is a pupil-centred philosophy that requires teachers to

provide a variety of routes to learning to reflect pupil difference. “The reality is that all children are unique and teachers are now expected to meet the needs of diverse learners within their classrooms” says Damian Gordon, Lecturer at Dublin Institute of Technology, “We cannot continue to teach in the same ways we did in the past.” It is fair to say that differentiation can be a challenge. The ‘one size fits

all’ approach where every child in class does exactly the same thing, all day, every day requires less thinking and planning than what differentiation demands. Yes, lesson planning becomes more time consuming when individual needs are taken into account, but seeing the child at the heart of the process is powerful justification. With the pupil at the centre, the motivating factor is clear; teachers need, and want, to do it for them, so the lesson content is made accessible. Differentiation is about curriculum access; the teacher creates multiple pathways for children of differing abilities in their class to engage and learn together. Differentiation is about flexibility and inclusivity. Can a lack of understand of the concept and misguided attempts at

differentiation do more harm than good? The term can be unhelpful when teachers aren’t sure what it means. It can be overused; bandied around naively. Crude interpretation of differentiation could cause teachers to lower their expectations for children with special educational needs. Making adjustments to the workload by simply shortening it, and asking less of the pupils surely seems the right option. But this should not be the case; more doesn’t necessarily mean better - high expectations should remain as the focus shifts from the child’s difficulties to the means to gain access to learning that the teacher provides. We want to help, but swinging to a position of making things too easy does not. The process of learning can be seen more clearly through the lens of

differentiation. Differentiation can be thought of in terms of differences in the content, process, product and environment. Teachers can fall into a trap of overthinking it, but put simply, it’s being more intentional about the “what, how and where” for pupils, and considering the implications of the lesson content and tasks for children with special educational needs. It’s possible to differentiate around the majority of pupils, and make very simple modifications to ensure full accessibility. Learning effectively is too important to be left to chance, effective differentiation is the linchpin. 19

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