Tag: SEN

My Starter for Five Contribution: SEN at Secondary

My Starter for Five Contribution: SEN at Secondary

Starter for Five is a UK based advice blog for new teachers. You can find it on twitter here. Each post gives 5 quick pieces of advice on a particular topic for new teachers and trainees submitted by experienced teachers.

Here’s mine:

Name: Josie Mingay
Twitter name: @JAMingay
Sector: Secondary
Subject taught (if applicable): English and Literacy
Position: Literacy leader / Lead Learner
What is your advice about? SEN at Secondary

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1: No SEN label should cause you to lower your expectations of students. Do all you can to remove specific obstacles to learning in order for students to reach ambitious goals.
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2: Be explicit about praising students for effort and hard work, rather than achievement. Students with SEN need to see that the journey to the destination is rewarded too.
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3: Make use of your SENCo/Learning Support dept – a great resource, often with a wealth of knowledge. Utilise their expertise to aid your planning/teaching.
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4: Talk to your students! More than any official document listing suggested strategies, students usually know their obstacles best and can tell you what support they need.
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5: Model using metacognitive strategies. One of the best tools for students with SEN is the ability to think about their learning and select strategies to apply to given tasks.
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If you have a topic you’d like to contribute advice about, click here.

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Illiteracy: What are we going to do about it?

Illiteracy: What are we going to do about it?

On Saturday 28th March, I was invited to speak at a conference organised by the Reading Reform Foundation (RRF). The purpose of the event was to highlight the vital importance of systematic synthetic phonics (SSP)*. A great variety of speakers with different areas of expertise were asked to talk on the subject and it seemed many fruitful conversations were had by those who attended. I was invited to talk about my decision to use SSP with secondary school students within SEN, which will be available online shortly.

*Simply put:

Systematic Synthetic Phonics (or SSP) is a structured, repetitive approach to teaching reading with a total reliance on the smallest units of explicit sounds – in both spoken form (‘phonemes’) and written form (‘graphemes’) – to teach reading. This method usually starts with the most common sounds and moves through to more complicated ones e.g. knowing a ‘dge’ makes the same sound as a ‘j’, and a ‘tch’ makes the same sound as a ‘ch’.

This is in contrast to analytic phonics, where students are often asked to read beyond a difficult word to the end of the sentence, then attempt to guess it using contextual clues. This approach, while helpful in the opinion of some, does not develop the reading skills of a student nor help them learn explicit sounds, since they have simply guessed the word through their understanding of the rest of the passage. This also often has negative impact for those new to English, since their knowledge of vocabulary at entry point to the UK is minimal, so there are flaws in the reliance of a guessing technique.

While I have been aware of the benefits of using a structured approach to reading for a long time, it has made me more sure than ever that this is the most targetted, reliable, efficient and, without wishing to go overboard, moral way to teach reading.

Unfortunately, official governmental guidance does not stipulate that a single methodical approach to teaching reading is key though does advise this. For me, a directive which would acknowledge the necessity of teaching reading through SSP would be a great step towards ensuring that far more students might have the opportunity to learn to read before they leave primary school.

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Not to add fuel to the fire in the debate around the phonics screening check at the end of Year 1, but I am a keen and outed supporter. Ensuring that any individual has a good grasp of the fundamental skills of reading and writing can surely only be a good thing.

With my SEN head on, however, there seems to be a flaw in the system. Please correct me if I’m wrong, but my understanding of it is as follows:

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The DfE website states that:

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… And after that? What happens then?

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If, as educators, we acknowledge that children physically grow at different rates, mature emotionally at different times and adopt new knowledge at different speeds, is it okay that we let so many fall off the radar beyond Y2 simply because their learning of our complex alphabetic code has not fit into our man-made termly organisation?

There seems to be a black hole for those students who have not grasped reading by this point and, in my opinion, this could be one key factor contributing to the situation I’m faced with as Literacy Leader of a secondary school, welcoming in substantial numbers of students arriving in Y7 who are still unable to read. Pass at Y2 or branded SEN. Hereth begineth the dreaded ‘gap’.

I have no doubt that schools in the majority do their best to scaffold the learning of students who fail to pass the phonics check at Y2. It is our moral obligation to ensure that our learners are equipped as best as possible for the education journey they walk. However, there are questions we need to be asking here:

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  1. What does the research suggest and how are we applying it to our own classrooms?
  2. If there are so many students failing to grasp reading across the UK, are we really using the most suitable approach that meets the needs of ALL our students?
  3. How else can we support students beyond this stage if they haven’t learnt it by the end of Y2?
  4. Have we done all we can to ensure this student is able to access the curriculum?

 

Disclaimer: I have been a primary school teacher. I have seen the amazing job that primary school teachers do, day in, day out. This post is by no means an attack on the teachers who deliver phonics to younger students. My intention is simply to verbalise my thoughts on the current situation I observe from a secondary perspective and explore ways we might overcome some of the flaws in the system.

 

If we are to see illiteracy in the UK reduce by any significant measure, we have a duty to ensure that:

  1. the most targetted, research-based, fail-proof, methodical approach to teaching reading is employed
  2. ALL students are supported to a point where they are able to read and write independently as early as possible (and beyond!) 

By achieving these two points above, I am almost certain that we would see numbers of those arriving at secondary labelled as ‘SEN’ dramatically decrease, since there would have been no gap (or at least a much smaller learning gap) to close. I’m sure we would begin to witness less students arrive at secondary who are clearly able in many areas of the curriculum, extremely competent in verbal responses, but branded with a ‘Specific Learning Difficulty’ in reading. I do acknowledge that there will always be some level of need in this area, which is likely to extend to education in the older years. I do also recognise, however, that we are clearly doing something wrong at present and, until it is addressed and corrected, we are failing a great number of our students.

Invention of an Intervention – Top 10 Tips

Last week I blogged about differentiation – see here. As Literacy Leader based in the SEN department of a fantastic secondary school (biased but true), I’m not at all hesitant to begin this post by briefly highlighting once again the importance of differentiation. As a teacher who is fortunate enough to spend the majority of their time supporting students with SEN, I see the provision of differentiated work in mainstream lessons as the lifeline for so many along the education journey – be that in literacy or in another area of learning.

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A significant number of frank conversations I’ve had in the past with students (including many very able but frustrated ones) who struggle with literacy, lead me to believe that if we – as a collective body of teachers within schools – could master the art of providing targeted, effective differentiation for our students so that they might reach the objectives/targets we expect them to meet, so many other aspects of school life would fall into place. I’ve encountered a vast range of different students with varying needs, who have gradually become disengaged with school life because they find themselves repeatedly struggling to access the learning in lessons, sometimes on a daily (hourly, even) basis. This reality can, not always but often, lead to further complications as a result:

  • increasingly disruptive behaviour
  • growing tensions between students and their peers/teachers/parents
  • lack of motivation
  • loss of confidence etc.

If students are scaffolded in a way that enables them to access the learning, albeit in a slightly different way to others in the same class, there would be little reason for them to have to trail behind their peers as they move through their education.

But, what happens when that effective, targeted differentiation mentioned above is provided and there is still a problem? What if this ‘lifeline’ in class does not breathe the life into learning that we hope it will? It is at this point that alternative routes need to be explored…

Waves

If, at the ‘Wave One’ level of support (quality first teaching, differentiated work in class etc.), it appears that a student cannot access the topics/skills/concepts that are being taught and therefore is still not making the progress they should be, then the only option is to adapt. In our profession, that’s what we do, right? And it is at this point that ‘Wave Two’ support – group intervention – must be considered.

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But what, and how?

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Over the past few years in my role, I’ve established a number of group interventions and whole-school literacy programmes, some that seemed to kick off and run a little smoother than others. Many of the reasons for that I’d put down to experience – learning from the successes and failures of previous efforts and recognising potential pitfalls to avoid along the way – and some I’d attribute to the fact that there is no ‘one size fits all’ method, pausing for a moment to remember that, ultimately, we’re working with students who are all entirely different people. So what might work incredibly well for one student with a literacy weakness, may not work very well for another.

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Nevertheless, while we may do our best to get close, teachers are not (and will never be) superhuman. Nor do we have the capacity in schools to provide individualised learning opportunities for every single student in our care. What we can offer, however, is some form of relief for these students by way of an intensive, worthwhile intervention, in order to support their learning of topics taught back in mainstream lessons.

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As I write, I’m very conscious that I don’t want this post to merely become a passionate plea for teachers and school leaders to recognise the importance of interventions in education. I’d hope I can take that as a given. (This I spoke about at the PiXL Club Curriculum Conference in early December 2013 and would be happy to discuss in detail, if you feel this would be helpful…)

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No. More than that, what I’d like to do here is simply share my Top 10 Tips for anyone approaching the important task of inventing an intervention. The Top 10 Guide you will find below has been kept simple intentionally, in the hope that it will be useful to a large number of people and can be applied to a wide range of possible interventions in their embryonic stages.

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Click on the blue link below to view the full size document.

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Intervention Top 10 JMingay2013

Please do read, digest and use, and let me know how you can see it being utilised best for you. As always, I welcome feedback – the good, the bad and the ugly(!) – and would be happy to have further conversations as mentioned above, should you have any more specific questions or comments.

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(I should also just say, while I’ve tried to be direct and succinct with this Top 10 Guide, this is not an exhaustive list and, depending on your unique situation, the points listed may be helpful to you but work better in a slightly different order.)

However this guide might be used, I hope the content is helpful and clear.
Thanks,
Josie
Find me on Twitter… @JAMingay