Education through the lens of educators

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Feliciea Jibson and Josianne Pisani write about the move from teacher centred lessons to being more student centred.

An inclusive system

The education system as we know it today was created in and for the industrial era. Things have changed in leaps and bounds since then. The classrooms are naturally much better equipped. We have moved from having teacher centred lessons to those that are more student centred, from a streaming to a setting approach, and from an exclusive to a more inclusive system.

Today, education is accessible to many more learners. The changes that we have seen over the last few years also mean that children are more involved in the learning process and are no longer placed in a class according to their academic performance but rather according to their ability in the different subjects. This is definitely a step in the right direction. Yet, there is often a disjunction between the learners and their learning environment, which at times results in some learners falling behind or being unable to cope, creating frustration, anxiety and a sense of failure. In a way, there are many Non-SEN learners who are SEN in that they have unique educational needs and the reasons for it are many.

Children are grouped by age and are expected to follow a standardised system dictated by what learners can or can’t do at a particular age. The system is based on the assumption that all kids of the same age have the same skills and abilities. But this is far from the reality that is witnessed in the classroom.

Children have different strengths and weaknesses, different aptitudes, learning styles, interests, characters, backgrounds, levels of maturity and different needs which affect how and what they learn. Whilst teachers try to take into consideration as many of the eight components mentioned above as possible when planning their lessons, the number of students in any given class, the workload and the vast content that needs to be covered makes it a very challenging task. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Being creative in education

If COVID-19 has taught us anything at all, it is that in today’s world being creative in education is a necessity, as is working collaboratively and having our work both digitised and accessible. Adapting our lessons to meet the needs of the learners rather than expecting the learners to adapt to our lessons has been of paramount importance for learners to have meaningful learning experiences. This has, in a way, further validated modern inclusion policies and practices which advocate that no child should be excluded or fail to achieve adequately due to poor quality or irrelevant education, that our neurodiverse learners should have access to the curriculum and have differentiated targets, and that the participation of parents and the support provided, not only to parents and students but also to teachers, should be strengthened.

Further to this, the eight components mentioned earlier have, over the last few years, been considered in relation to the impact of neurological conditions on an individual’s memory and capacity for learning and generalising, so that the opportunities for these learners to acquire important skills are maximised. Prof Emeritus Angela Fawcett (2018) mentioned that “Current education tools test the attainment rather than the potential”. Earlier research of Shepard (2000) highlighted the ‘Changing conception on learning’ which in his opinion is interwoven with changing conception of curriculum and assessment. Moreover, Robinson (2013) advocates for a radical rethinking of our school systems where creativity is stimulated, and multiple types of intelligence are acknowledged. A paper in neuroscience by De Lavilléon, Lacroix, and Vilarem (2018) brings up the importance of teaching ‘Soft skills’ and the fact that these skills are very poorly defined, often being confused with personality traits.

Recognising uniqueness

In light of all this and in response to the issues that we are experiencing in terms of assessment and SEND (Special Educational Needs and Disability) neurodiverse learners, perhaps we need to re-assess the ways in which we understand child development. Perhaps we should search for new systems that could possibly change the way educators work with students with disabilities and learning difficulties. Perhaps we need to make use of an assessment that promotes a ‘can do’ approach, recognises the uniqueness of each learner and provides the goal setting information for personalized learning progress. Such a tool already exists but is yet to be utilised by educational bodies.

Recognising uniqueness

By knowing a learner’s style of learning, which either is conceptual or experiential (by seeing, by hearing, by doing, or a combination of some or all of these) the teacher/professional can use different strategies that will make learning easier. Brown, McDaniel and Roediger (2014) mentioned in their research that ‘good teaching’ would need to be tailored to learners’ learning style and to offer functional and meaningful situations for better retention and for consolidating memory.

This gives us our starting point, the place from which the journey begins. This is where the creative brilliance of the teacher and teaching assistant comes in. These are the people, besides the parents and carers, who know the learner best, and who will be able to apply the use of technology, personal interests, passions and hobbies into a programme of motivational learning. But how can this be done?

Harnessing interests

Let us consider the lesson outcomes and how we can differentiate the way we teach our learners. Remember that they are real pupils, in a special needs school or on a special needs program. These learners have spikey ASD profiles. They have different hobbies and interests to the rest of us that motivate them to engage.

They also experience anxiety and stress-related behaviours. The key to reduce this would be to build their interests into the curriculum. You would be surprised how engaged they can be if their interest is harnessed. If the learner is passionate about trains, build trains in every aspect of your teaching (e.g. teaching maths: how many trains depart, at what time, when they arrive).

If the learner is passionate about football you can use football film footage to look at the emotional brain, and what the learner does when their emotional brain takes over. Then, talk about their anger manifestation such as becoming violent, breaking things or having self-harming behaviour. Being able to demonstrate and managing to detach themselves from the situation would already show a good level of understanding.

This can be the start of their pathway to success. The look of delight on their faces when presented with a task sheet with hobbies that they are so passionate about will be a testament to the thoroughness of their profiling and mapping, and the willingness of their teachers to personalise their learning. It can also be the start of an inclusive journey helping everybody else along the way for what benefits them will also benefit their classmates.

With everything that has been said and done, perhaps the future lies not so much in teaching content but in developing transferable skills in our learners, and in the process helping them learn how to learn.

Feliciea Jibson
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Feliciea Jibson

Feliciea Jibson is Chief Science Officer at PAGS SRL and founder of PAGS (Profile, Assessment and Goal Setting) an online profiling and progress monitoring tool that boosts children’s learning and psycho-social development. PAGS is a transformative tool that democratizes neurodiversity expertise and tools. Neurodiversity includes autism, ADHD and dyslexia and related conditions such as dyscalculia, dyspraxia, global developmental delay. Parents, teachers and psychologists working with neurodiverse children fill out our proprietary questionnaires, which builds a rich and detailed developmental profile of the child. Based on this profile, the platform is then able to assist these adults in (1) setting the right learning goals for the child and (2) recommending appropriate tools to help achieve these learning goals. 

Feliciea is a qualified Teacher with years of experience in teaching autistic children in schools, residential settings, and working directly with parents, care givers and families. She has completed her Masters degree in Autism at University of Birmingham. Before embarking on PAGS development, Feliciea worked for 4 years as a Head of Department for learners of 16 to 25 years old with severe learning difficulties and complex needs.  

Find out how PAGS can provide you with strategies for inclusive lessons: www.pagsprofile.com

Josianne Pisani
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Josianne Pisani is a teacher, teacher trainer and materials writer at ETI Malta with years of experience in teaching English as a second language to learners of all ages and abilities. She has written and runs various methodology courses and has been training teachers from around the world for the last 10 years. She is also a SEN coach and a PAGS professional.

Josianne has recently launched her own website, a platform that provides interactive and engaging material as well as lesson ideas for educators.

Find out more about Josianne and what she does at:

www.englishpracticecafe.com

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