Special Educational needs, Additional needs or Individual needs? What is the difference? Is there a difference? Do they all mean the same thing? At which point does an individual need become an additional and then a special need? Does the language we use make any difference to our expectations and aspirations for a child or does the language effect how a child or an adult perceives themselves? In fact does the language we use in general affect how we perceive ourselves, what we think we can do and what we think we are capable of…
Having read lots of Carol Dwecks work on mindset I believe that the language we use has everything to do with achievement, attainment and expectations… Language is a skill we all possesses and used in the right way language has the power to build a person up, empower and change actions and change a persons mindset to believe anything is possible…. Of course equally language can be used as a weapon and has the ability to cut and leave lasting scars. Language can be used to scare and threaten and consolidate feelings of insecurity and poor self worth…
If language has the power to do this then the language we use every day would therefore affect us and therefore effect our performance and our outcomes. This post explores how I believe through my personal and professional experience the language we use can have an impact both positive and negative on the outcomes of pupils and teaching performance and how if we think carefully about the language we use we can empower people to make small changes that can trigger huge difference.
I am currently working as an intervention teacher in a large primary school. My role is to support and teach small groups. I have been tasked to identify and fill in gaps in their learning so that they are able to make progress. They are children which have been identified by the senior leadership team or by class teacher as children who are not making progress. It is widely acknowledge by the staff that there are a vast amount of reasons why the pupils are not making progress.
I can honestly say it is one of the most difficult jobs I have ever done. Not because the children are difficult to teach. They are magic and a complete delight and are all super eager to learn. It is difficult because with my specialist knowledge I can see what needs to be done but just don’t have the time to be able to do it. I know what these children need to make them make progress and a small part is specialist input from me but the majority of what they require is not in a room away from their class with me. What they require is a hands on curriculum that is based in applying metagognitive approaches and has opportunities for over learning and a relationship with a class teacher where they feel like they are achieving all the time, no matter where they are in their learning journey..
Many of these children do not have special educational needs, many of these children do not have additional needs. Many of these children need to be taught in a way which is conducive to their learning style. Interestingly, whilst I have not formally assessed and diagnosed I suspect that the majority of the children I have for my catch up groups are Dyslexic! However whether they are dyslexic or not is irrelevant. Their needs are not ‘special’ I would not class their needs as ‘additional’ I would class their needs as ‘their needs’ as in I just see what the children need to make progress and that is our starting point.
Whilst many of their basic needs are broadly the same, phonological awareness requires development, working memory becomes easily overloaded, comprehension requires work there are also some quirks to each individual child which makes them unique and different and special… All of the children I teach are special, individual and unique so why would I think that all dyslexic children need the same thing, but also why would I think a class full of 30 children need the same things. The intervention job is the hardest job I have ever done because one dyslexic strategy does not fit all and knowing what I know sees me on a mission to meet all of their needs effectively in the space of 30 minutes. Is dyslexia a special need! Is it an additional need or is it a different need?
Each of these children needs to be taught in a way that is compatible to where they are in their learning journey. I can broadly deliver the same thing but I need to ensure that each session has auditory approaches, visual approaches, tracking, dictation, memory work, handwriting and multi sensory links.
Many of my groups are phonic groups and maths groups and I can see how easily their working memories become overloaded and how easily they get information overload and how low their self esteem is becoming because they feel they can’t keep up! In fact for the majority the biggest barrier at this point is not their ability, their biggest barrier is their feeling of not being able to keep up, so therefore many of them don’t listen because they think they won’t be able to keep up, many of them tell me as we start to sequence the alphabet that they won’t be able to do it, many of them tell me they are rubbish at maths because they can’t do big numbers… I get a ‘I can’t do it everyday…’ Well I did in the first week… At the end of week 2 the children have learnt they are not allowed to say ‘I can’t do it….’ Instead they say ‘I can’t do it… yet!’ This simple 3 letter word makes a massive difference because it gives them hope that they will get it and get there, maybe not today, but they will get there. If a child says I can’t do it yet..,we then have a discussion about what we could, change, need or make, to help them be able to do it… This enables a self reflective discussion to happen between the pupil and me which allows me to guide them and coach them, which bit is it they don’t understand, why is it they don’t understand it, which bits do they understand… This enables me to constantly assess and work out where my starting point tomorrow needs to be…
The 2014 SEND code of practise puts far greater emphasis on the classroom teacher remaining responsible for a pupils learning regardless of their need. The graduated response introduces a continuous cycle of assess, plan, do, review that the pupil, teacher and parent remain the centre of. Assessment is KEY… how do we know what needs a child has until we assess them? A child on the surface may look to be not making progress but there may be many reasons for this… I think sometimes the word, the language ‘assessment’ is taken too literally by teachers. The code of practise is not asking for constant standardised, levelled assessment, the code of practise is asking for us to get to know a pupil and their needs, not necessarily special, individual additional or diagnosed… Just their needs… A simple 5 minute observations or 5 minute pupil conference might be all you need to tell you a child has difficulty with hearing and identifying individual sounds in words, or is unable to follow whole class multi step instructions. This does not mean that they will never be able to spell, it means they need an intervention to support with hearing and segmenting sounds in words… It does not mean that they should never be given instructions with the class, but it means that additional instruction or simplified language, emphasising key words may be beneficial.
My current job is also hard because my expectations of myself are ridiculously high. I will settle for little less than perfect and I will ensure that each and every child makes progress no matter how small. My concern is that I am not sure how long I can sustain it for. How long I can teach 7 groups back to back, moving at a fast pace, tailoring each activity to meet the needs of the 8 children in my group. They all have slightly different profiles and slightly different needs. This also bring it home as to how difficult a class teacher must find it to teach 30 children. A class teacher has to get to know 30 children and in some cases more than 30… We need to have patience with class teachers… They are not going to be able to get to know all of the children over night… Teachers are human beings and our chosen profession, like many professions these days, is becoming increasingly difficult to manage. We all need to be on the same page, and I understand we teachers have to earn the respect of parents but parent also need to work with us and equally need to earn our trust too.
To conclude, special or additional or different needs makes little difference, the word we should be using is ‘individual’. If children were to be seen on a spectrum of need rather than on a spectrum of special educational need I think it would shift the way we view it for the better. Special is indicative of requiring ‘special skills’ to teach them when actually this may help a little but often the biggest difference is made when the child is viewed as an individual and when we work together to find a way forward. The people who can make the biggest difference and impact is not necessarily the intervention teacher. With correct knowledge about a child it is a class teacher. Class teachers are the ones that need to be making the changes and can use language to the pupils advantage the most as they have the most exposure and class teachers are the ones needing support! I personally think language has the power to make many positive changes we need to be open minded and self aware understanding that the language we use has the power to destroy as well as to assist in success.
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