Are we SENDing children down the right path?
The Education Endowment Foundation (EEF), states rightly that ‘pupils with SEND (special educational needs and disability) have the greatest need for excellent teaching’. I have long believed that great SEND teaching and learning, is just great teaching for all.
Taking the time to consider the children we teach, their SEND, transition needs and their first day of a new term, we can truly put our pupils on the right path for the rest of the year.
The start of a new school year can be an anxious time for many children. It is a return to conformity and a return to feeling a little out of their depth. Returning after the summer break can be particularly jarring for those children we teach with additional needs.
Careful planning and consideration for SEND transition can go a long way to mitigate those issues.
For a moment, consider the first day of term. As a teacher, it is daunting enough. For a child, it can be a heady mix of nervous anticipation and anxiety. For a child with additional needs, it can be a further challenge still. The first day of term is a moment to set your course and make the habits to embolden you and the children you work with.
Ditch the preconceptions!
One of the barriers SEND pupils have to their learning could be the teacher they have in front of them!
We can often approach a class with preconceived ideas. We see a particular student on a class list which fills us with a sense of dread. You’ve heard all the stories: Read the student profile …
Ignore those stories (at least before your first lesson with them).
Certainly, be prepared, and know who is coming into your classroom. Know what sort of strategies you might need to try. You will hopefully have had some SENCo input for pupils who need to be specifically catered for before the first lesson.
Either way, allow your first impressions to form as naturally as possible, uncoloured by reductive labels and profiling.
Please note, that this is not advocating you throw caution to the wind and fail to meet the needs of the student in front of you, more meeting the needs of the student generally at first, specifically when you know them (unless they require specific strategies or equipment).
In short, give them a chance. Give them a chance to prove that they are more than their label, more than the student with ADHD (attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder), Autism or that little ‘k’ mark on the register.
Too often we as adults group pupils into convenient boxes, and this can be stifling.
Good relationships are key. Once you have made that connection and had that first encounter, then go back and check their profiles further and speak to colleagues.
Expectations are set high!
Are your expectations high enough?
Too often we pigeonhole pupils with additional needs, and this is a habit to break from day one. Your expectations should be high. A ‘teaching to the top approach’ can work wonders for some pupils with additional needs.
Lose the differentiated worksheets, and move to a scaffolded approach where appropriate. Instead of bringing the work down to the student, bring the student up to the work. Offer support and guidance through strategies such as TA (Teaching Assistant) direction, teacher support, help sheets, checklists, peers, and dual-coding.
The key concept is that you are building the student up, rather than expecting less. If a student is significantly below their age-related expectation, then hopefully your SENCo will have supported you for their needs to include a personalised curriculum etc.
The first day?
On your first day with a student with additional needs (and every other pupil), find something that will challenge them in a supportive way, that will provoke thought and engagement.
You only have one first day, one day to hook the children for the rest of the year. Just as your first impressions of the pupils make a big difference, their first impressions of you will have a huge impact.
Relationships, relationships, relationships
Teachers have embedded into our pedagogy that good learning for all stems from positive relationships. This is more true when talking about children with additional needs. Building on your first encounters is vital for long-term success.
A student’s first day of term should have as many positive interactions as possible. Set your day so that you don’t set the student up to fail. Build time to interact with particular pupils on a personal level. Find out what makes them tick, and show them you care about them.
Their learning will only get better because they will work for you and with you.
- Learn the names of key pupils before the first day.
- Leave your preconceptions at the door- all pupils are unique.
- Prepare to meet their needs generally, then specifically (unless specific resources are stipulated).
- Make a personal connection- ask questions, and be open to sharing.
- Be inclusive with what you do, a child with additional needs shouldn’t feel they are being treated differently.
Meet the new term with a new approach and improve SEND transition in your classroom. We should ditch our preconceptions, embrace the individuality and the uniqueness of the wonderful children we have the pleasure to work with.