'Hard to spot' children in the classroom
The very visible naughty child whose misbehaviour hides a more serious problem
Beccie Hawes, Head of Service, Rushall’s Inclusion Advisory Support Team
Sometimes a pupil’s needs can be difficult to unpick because behaviour can mask what is really going on and lead to a label that only covers the surface.
I have the pleasure and privilege of getting to know many young people as I support them through our service work in schools. This involves me finding out about their strengths and areas of difficulties. Often, when working with a new pupil, the school based conversation starts something like this: ‘I have this child and no one knows what to do about them.’ This then leads to: ‘We’ve exhausted everything we’ve got to offer and were hoping you could come and have a look with your magic wand.’
At this point I always agree. I love a challenge and am yet to find the unteachable learner. What I usually find is that the pupil is exhibiting a series of behaviours that are communicating something about their learning to us. My task is to be the person that unpicks this!
I recently observed 13-year-old Josh* sat outside the head teacher’s office doing what a nearby teaching assistant referred to as ‘his constant chuntering’ about receiving yet another detention. It transpired that he had received yet another consequence for not having his PE kit and the right ingredients for food technology. Josh had then stormed out of his form room and punched the wall.
In hushed tones the teaching assistant explained that Josh always forgets everything, was always angry, always damaging stuff and just not doing well at school. She shared that this was ‘just the way it was with him’. I couldn’t accept this and set myself the challenge of exploring if there was a reason why this was the way it was for Josh.
Sometimes a pupil’s needs can be difficult to unpick because behaviour can mask what is really going on and lead to a label that only covers the surface. After six months of exploring below the tip of the iceberg, we realised that Josh experiences dyslexia. His dyslexia had been hidden behind thirteen years of frustration, fear and embarrassment-driven behaviour. Josh and the others just like him are the perfect reason why we must do the following.
- Dig deeper than what the surface shows us.
- Never accept that ‘this is just the way it is’.
- Triangulate information from a range of situations and sources.
- Have robust assessment for learning procedures and practices that drive learning forwards.
At the heart of this we then need to remember that the pupil doesn’t have a learning difficulty – we have a teaching difficulty. It is up to us to find the best way in which a pupil will learn. Going under the tip of the iceberg to accurately identify a need is the only way our teaching difficulties will be solved.
A version of this article was originally published by SEN Magazine.
The child who could slip through the cracks in maths
Ronnie Ebanks (Head of Maths) and the Maths department, St George’s British International School, Rome
Tempting as it might be to brush off this issue (‘It’s Maths! I’ll know if they have difficulties because they’ll get it wrong!’), I’d like to invite you consider the following three types of learners. Are they slipping through the mesh of your assessment web?
Be on the prowl for those students who are doing ‘fine’, but really have a lot more to give!
Familiar to us all, the coaster is as common in the maths classroom as any other, and so our first port of call must be the progress models (CAT indicators, Fischer Family Trust models, as well as teacher tracking from year-to-year). Be on the prowl for those students who are doing ‘fine’, but really have a lot more to give!
Once identified, intervene with differentiation and push them with extension work to drive them out of their easy-maths-life into deeper waters where they can really learn to swim.
The algorithmatiser loves to follow the steps, knows them well and can replicate them with almost negligible effort, but, if pressed a little (‘why does that work?’), will mumble something about that being the way you do it, repeating the method parrot-fashion as a supposed explanation. Given a different example, they cannot adjust the approach to suit the problem.
These students need us to widen the scope of the type of work we do in the maths classroom beyond practice to problem solving. Students will develop these problems if we continue to teach the process and not the concept. We must allow students to discover the principles themselves and develop their own strategies. They must be given opportunities to think mathematically, reason, justify, explain, argue and debate. We need to step back from instruction to become facilitators and let the students become the experts.
The goldfish is fully engaged during the learning experience yet, when you revisit a topic, looks at you blankly, as if they’d never encountered it before. Given the recent expansion of the curriculum – both in terms of its depth and variety – it is perhaps not surprising that goldfish are becoming more common in our classrooms!
Help these students by building consolidation points into your curriculum plan – also providing yourself with useful opportunities to spot them and intervene. Like language learning, maths requires fluency – if you only rehearse the present tense, then you never master the others.
These are the three most common types of students that slip through the cracks, and the strategies we use to identify them and – better still – to prevent them from developing in the first place, can only support deeper progress for all students.
A version of this article was originally published by the TES.
The child wth English as an additional language
Matthew Savage, Deputy Head of School, Bromsgrove International School, Thailand
This data is, more often than not, a liberating force, unleashing the potential of young learners for whom English really is the only obstacle.
Professor Michael Barber warned back in 1996 that there would be a swathe of young people who would, were interventions not applied, be either ‘disappointed’, ‘disaffected’ or ‘disappeared’ before too long. In the subsequent decade, UK schools were tasked with implementing strategies for ‘hard to reach’ students, partly in order to reduce the number of those who were NEET (not in education, employment or training).
However, even today, a significant number of students remain similarly under threat, and my fear is that most schools have not spotted who they are, yet.
My quest, in pursuit of #TheMonaLisaEffect, a model of personalised learning which aims to ensure that every student believes their learning experience has been designed specifically for them, with all their strengths, needs, interests and passions in full and deliberate gaze.
I believe strongly that, within the 21st Century classroom, this becomes so much easier when furnished with a sophisticated and rich data triangle on each and every student. At Bromsgrove International School, Thailand, we make full use of the assessment portfolio from GL Education. The lens of our learning personalisation has become especially sharp as a result of each student’s aptitudinal and attitudinal data.
With the Cognitive Abilities Test (CAT4), my teachers have a profound insight into every child’s academic ability, beneath and beyond the veneer of what is, for the majority of our cohort, a significant English as an additional language (EAL) barrier. This data is, more often than not, a liberating force, unleashing the potential of young learners for whom English really is the only obstacle. Subsequently and simultaneously, the Pupil Attitudes to Self and School (PASS) survey shows us #WhatLiesBeneath, the attitudinal currents which swirl and rip under the masks increasingly worn in childhood, especially within Asian societies.
Like a treasure map, CAT4 and, increasingly, the educators become treasure hunters. Meanwhile, PASS is an emotional MRI machine, often showing us precisely why the treasure is proving difficult to find – or, using the terms of this blog, ‘hard to spot’.
Knowing that, for example, a child is suffering from low self-regard, that their metacognition is underdeveloped, or that their risk-aversion is rooted in a fear of failure, finally we can do something about it, and empower them to dig for their own treasure. This is #TheMonaLisaEffect, and it is proving very powerful in driving forward pupil progress.
This article was originally published by Independent Education magazine.