How can teachers best support learners with SEN? In reality, this is a very big question. Every child is different and learners have different personalities, as well as different additional learning needs. As we explored last week, if you are a teacher who has learners with SENs in your classroom, the most important thing that you need to do in order to support them is to find out exactly what those needs are. In addition, it can be helpful to know what some of the indicators are for certain special educational needs and some common strategies for supporting the learner, which is the focus of today’s blog. It should be noted, while it is useful for teachers to be aware of factors that may mean a child has a special educational need, teachers are neither diagnosticians nor medical practitioners, and the job of deciding whether a child has a special educational need should only be done by qualified professionals who are experienced at this task. Labelling should be avoided at all costs, but if some of these indicators are present, it may mean that it is a good idea to talk to the SEN coordinator in your school to find out how to proceed. Moreover, it is somewhat over-simplistic to interpret the following as the whole picture when it comes to these specific SENs, they should be viewed merely as guidelines that can help the teacher to better inform themselves about the potential needs of some of their students.
Dyslexia is a SEN which most commonly influences learners’ ability to read and write. According to the support group Understood, the causes of Dyslexia are still being investigated by researchers, but there are some signs that genetics may play a role, as well as brain anatomy.
The following are common signs:
• May struggle to understand written stories or text, despite understanding these when told orally.
• Finds spelling challenging, perhaps spelling things phonemically.
• May also find numeracy difficult.
• Perhaps the child might comment that words have the appearance of moving on the page.
• May struggle with copying large amounts of text.
• Handwriting might be illegible.
Some common support strategies for teaching learners with dyslexia include:
• Focus on the positive. Dyslexic learners often struggle with self-esteem yet are often very talented in areas such as music and sports. Encourage the child to share these strengths with others as much as possible to increase feelings of self-esteem.
• Try putting colored lines on the board underneath your boardwork to make it easier to follow
• Limit copying from the board, but if you must do it, leave writing up for as long as the child needs to read it and try not to rush them.
• Be selective with what you give learners to read. Ensure reading material is matched to the child’s level.
• Avoid having the learner read aloud in class. This may cause them to feel distress.
• Be positive in your marking to writing and make sure to comment on the content of the child’s writing rather than just pointing out errors.
Dyspraxia used to be known as ‘clumsy child syndrome’. Thankfully, this is not the case anymore as the term is somewhat disparaging. Indicators that a child has Dyspraxia may be:
• Difficulties with balance and coordination which may mean routine actions such as dressing and putting on shoes are challenging.
• A delay with handwriting and copying
• Mismanagement of time and difficulties with punctuality.
• Inability to concentrate for long periods of time
• Literal use and interpretation of language
• Difficulties with working memory that may manifest through lack of understanding of complex instructions
• Completing class work may take a long time
• Physical complaints such as headaches and migraines
Of course, this is by no means exclusive and no child is the same in terms of the indicators that may be present. In terms of supporting these learners, some of the following are strategies that may aid these learners and help to make classroom tasks more inclusive:
• Ensure that you have the learner’s attention when you are giving instructions. Grade your language down (more so than normal) and break multi-step instructions down so that they are delivered separately.
• Avoid doing too many tasks which focus on the child having to produce a large volume of writing, such as copying from the board.
• Reduce distractions. You may want to seat these learners away from the toy cupboard or any other piece of classroom furniture that they may want to fiddle with. Having a tidy classroom will aid this.
• Encourage these learners to write using the computer or when they do have to write by hand, let younger children use a pencil grip.
• Use visual timelines and timetables to help with time management
• Do frequent role play to aid understanding of figurative language.
ASD stands for Autism Spectrum Disorder. The terminology for learners with ASD has changed considerably during the last couple of decades and actually now incorporates what previously used to be a range of other SENs such as Asperger’s syndrome and Autistic Disorder. Nowadays, this describes a range of different characteristics which may be experienced to varying degrees by each person on the spectrum. The level to which children may experience the following will vary and will depend on the child.
• Difficulties socializing and working with peers
• A preference for not making direct eye-contact with an interlocutor
• Interpreting language on a literal level causing problems understanding the meaning of idioms and other figurative language.
• Some children may prefer to avoid physical contact with others, which may include members of their own family.
• Hyper-sensitivity or sensory overload when it comes to things such as bright lights, loud noises and strong smells.
• A need for routine. These learners may get upset if the routine is changed at short notice.
• Often, these learners may have a special interest that they enjoy talking about at length.
• High, specialized level of knowledge in a specific area.
• Some learners may have difficulties speaking and communicating.
If you have learners in your class that have ASD, the best thing to do is to ask the child or the parent about what works for them. However, some of the following may be useful:
• Seat the child in a quiet part of the classroom next to another supportive learner.
• Speak to others in the classroom about empathy and do some empathy-building team activities.
• Let learners decide if and how they want to participate when doing noisy class activities such as drama or team games.
• Inform the learner about changes to routine in advance, so that they are prepared.
• Let learners take part in special interest projects when they can work on the things that they enjoy, which they are normally good at.
• When communicating with the learner, avoid abstract language and try to teach explicitly language such as idioms so that learners understand the meaning.
ADHD stands for ‘Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder’. Learners who have ADHD often get an unfair reputation as being ‘naughty’. It is important therefore that teachers recognize that the factors influencing a child’s behavior may be out of the child’s control. Some indicators that a child has ADHD are:
• Needing to move around a lot
• Gets distracted easily
• May find it difficult to follow instructions
• Impulsivity may be common
• May find turn taking difficult
• Finds class tasks boring or uninspiring
• Might have difficulties integrating with peers
When working with learners with ADHD, it is really important that learners do not get labelled as ‘naughty’ or ‘difficult’, as this will have a negative influence on their self-esteem. The following strategies may help:
• Seat the learners away from distractions and ideally near to you so that you can keep them on track if they get distracted.
• Break down complex instructions into various steps so that learners find them easy to follow.
• Do some empathy-building activities with the rest of the class to make integration with peers easier.
• Ensure that you employ variety in your lesson stages. Give frequent opportunities for hands-on and / or sensory based activities that will keep learners engaged.
• Understand that these learners need to move around. If needed you could provide some boundaries for them for doing so, i.e. If you need to move around, go into the carpeted area.
• Consider giving the child some type of toy to hold in their hand to manipulate, such as a rubber ball or some Play Doh so that they can keep their hands busy.
• Keep lesson stages pacey so that they do not drag on for too long.
• Reward attention with praise.
Whatever blend of learners you have in your class it is key that everybody feels valued in the learning environment. Ensuring that a child’s individual strengths and efforts are rewarded helps to build learners’ self-esteem and motivation to be in the learning space. The information contained here is meant to be introductory, and the best thing you can do as a teacher is to find out each child’s individual needs and how you can best meet them.
If you're interested to learn more about special educational needs, then you might be interested in our upcoming young learner teacher training workshops in Hong Kong.
Eve Conway is our TYLEC and CertTESOL trainer. She has worked in Spain, Vietnam and Mexico as both a teacher and TYLEC trainer as well as having worked on shorter projects in the UK, Italy, Azerbaijan and Peru. She worked for over 6 years for the British Council, where she discovered a love for working with children, particularly Early Years learners. Eve holds a bachelor’s degree in English language as well as an MA in Applied Linguistics and a Trinity DipTESOL. Having always loved languages, she is a fluent Spanish speaker and is keen to learn more languages. Eve is a keen conference speaker and occasional writer for ELT magazines and publications.