Friday, 1 August 2014

The Beginning, The Middle and The End

Now I've had time to do nothing for a little while after the intense end to a very long half term, I feel I'm ready to reflect on the year.

It was a lot of 'firsts' for me...

  • First time with SLD/PMLD pupils - having only worked with MLD before (Had never worked with lower than a P5 previously).
  • First time in KS1 (other than placements) and first time with EYFS.
  • First time with a mixed class (2 key stages/year groups).
  • First time with more than one assistant.
The first term was a difficult time for me - I'd never had children that refused to sit on a chair, or refused to 'do' lessons. I spent a lot of time stressing that not all of them were taking part in lessons. It took a LONG time (and sometimes I'm still not quite there) to realise that the world doesn't end if 'John' doesn't sit in the group for music etc. However, I did have my first observation and got a 'Good'.

It took me a while to adapt my curriculum/timetable to include my EYFS children - plus my 'refusers' in a sense that 'ok, they're not doing "Maths" but what are they doing?' ... walking around and opening cupboards and crying isn't ok! So, I set up free flow activities that (very) loosely link to Maths/English (Ideas for these would be welcome, at the moment it usually ends up being plastic numbers or letters in sand, or shape sorters, or inset puzzles - very samey).

In Spring, I began my 'free flow' setting and whilst it's not perfect (although, probably only in my eyes), it works. However... is it ok that (sometimes) an assistant leads the 'English' lesson on a 1:1 basis? I had my second observation, this time from the head and got 'Outstanding'. However, my most difficult ASD pupil was off that day.

Moving into Summer, not much changed except a lot of staffing issues - so my 'stress' (not real stress, only my own OCD panic!) was increased as we dealt with transitions/different staff etc. The relaxation of the timetable occurred towards the end of the second half and I began to look back and wonder...

My biggest wonder is whether I'm getting it right... and how do you know for SLD/PMLD children? The free-flow worked, but is that ok when, next year, I won't have any EYFS children? Perhaps I just think to much/worry too much about things. In the end, all of the children in my class met their targets... which yes is great, but I set them... so is that really an achievement?

I'm not sure what I expected from this year, but I came from a setting where I was an AST and very well established as a strong member of the team... big fish, small pond. Now I feel like a tiny weeny tiddler of a fish in a massive pond and I'm not sure if its because I'm not getting things right, or because I'm not confident in my ability yet.

Next year, same children different planning. So it will be interesting to see if:
a) I have better authority over my assistants. Working with 3 adults is challenging (more challenging than the kids imo!) and my biggest struggle this year was that they already knew the children, so I felt myself letting them take the lead a lot.
b) I 'let things go' easier - I have got better at that as the year as gone on (for example if 'John' doesn't do art how the plan says and does 3 blobs of paint's not the end of the world) but we relaxed the timetable a lot, I will be interested to see if next year when we're back in full learning mode, that I accept it as easily. (I'd be interested to hear how other teachers deal with similar children in their own setting... my assistants used to say if he'd done 3 blobs (or similar) that he's done now and 'We've won' (their words not mine) but surely there's better ways?

I am looking for other jobs... not particularly sure I want to move but as I said I'm questioning whether this is the right place for me. Trouble is, I know the right place for me is an MLD setting and they're very few and far between!

Wednesday, 14 May 2014

Dual Placements

The idea of Dual Placements can sometimes really work for pupils with Special Needs and I think it's important to consider the pros and cons of them. Especially after reading a study by Dr Ben Simmons, admittedly his work mainly discusses PMLD pupils and my focus is learners that are ASD.

I feel, for the most part, that Dual Placements can be extremely effective, particularly with ASD children. My main reason comes from personal experience that in Special Schools, often the other children have just as much difficulties with Social Skills as the ASD children do - so the benefits from interacting with mainstream children can be great in terms of developing social skills and in some settings early play skills. However, without wanting to dismiss the work completed by Dr Ben Simmons, I don't feel they can be effective for pupils with PMLD - this is coming from personal experience with very few pupils though.

My main reasons for this blog is to discuss 2 particular pupils who are currently on Dual Placements.

Child 1 who does Monday - Wednesday is a P4-5 verbal ASD pupil... Whose behaviours in our setting make teaching them a real challenge. Often, they copy other ASD pupils who 'opt out' of tasks and who are aggressive towards other children and staff. They choose to become 'mute' in our setting as they're is the only verbal pupil in on those days (I can understand it might be daunting for them) but with no other means of communication it can be a little difficult and mum doesn't want them using makaton as she's worried they'll choose to stop speaking altogether. They also won't eat with us... Again, they sees other ASD pupils being fussy/choosing what they will/won't eat and copies, but as they are FSM and doesn't bring a back up packed lunch like others do, if they refuses dinner we have nothing else to offer them. So, in a lot of ways it seems they fare better at the other placement, with a 1:1 and better role models. They appear to be making good progress there and is joining after school clubs, eating dinner and generally behaviour seems more manageable.

Child 2 - does Thursday and Friday, unfortunately Thursday morning is my PPA time so I only see them for a day and a half. Fridays are 'choosing time' (where we develop social skills) so I'm expected to level a child I only actually teach... For a day. In general, Child 2 doesn't fare so well in either place. With cerebral palsy, they're my only physically disabled pupil... Which makes safety in the classroom an issue amongst 6 ASD pupils who don't understand they can't join in their chasing, rough and tumble play. They also copy ASD behaviours, lots of opting out/distracting and more recently wailing for attention. Wailing ALOT for attention (which obviously doesn't  go down well with my noise sensitive ASD pupils). Mum has concerns because their behaviour is also deteriorating at their other placement, where they has begun to be rude and insolent towards staff and refusing to do any work. They're a P5-6 and mum is convinced they'd go far in the right setting but at the moment there's no middle ground. They're struggling because they're so low in mainstream - but struggling in ours because they can't cope without the 1:1 attention, they're significantly brighter than the majority of my pupils so has to fight for attention in our setting.

It's hard... I hear a lot about other children in the EYFS and in KS2 that are on dual placements that are deteriorating or not working. Is there a place for SLD and/or PMLD children in mainstream settings? I'm beginning to wonder. Of course there is the argument that they are there to socialise... But I know for a fact that ASD children would need support with that, at the very lowest level. Are mainstream teachers and assistant equipped to know how to facilitate the learning of our P Scale level children? At a recent moderation I gained a child who it was claimed was a P7 by his old mainstream setting. After spending a week with him it was blatant to me that he was no higher than P4... When discussing this with his old teacher she admitted that she didn't want to level him lower than P7 as she didn't know anything about levels lower than P7. Another child I've heard about spends their entire time in a small room completing work 1:1 with an adult, not encountering any other children throughout the day - how is this effective for them in the long run?

Are our children detrimental to the learning of others? We expect them to be accepted in a mainstream classroom - in some cases of children as old as 7, when developmentally our children are sometimes as low as 2-3. They can be quite challenging behaviourally, is it ok that other children are therefore expected to wait/watch/deal with this and become distracted or take staff away from them? Should other parents have a say? I know of one dual placement mainstream school who removes the ASD pupil from the class and teaches him 1:1 in another room - then what is the point of that placement?!

The issue with the Dual Placement pupils I have - is that there's no middle ground for them. We have no MLD provision until secondary. There seems more and more that children need a slot to fit into for their education... And more and more different slots are needed. Slots for ASD children above P5 and for those below. Slots for walking PMLD and physically disabled PMLD children. I'm beginning to wonder how effective dual placements are and whether they are as beneficial as parents would like to think. Sometimes, I really feel that it's the last chance they have to hold onto that their child isn't as special as they need to be to be in a Special School.

I recognise for some pupils - dual placements are exactly what they need to find a unique balance between special and mainstream education. That some teachers and support staff are trained and can effectively make their mainstream class idyllic for providing for the needs of SLD children, with or without ASD. For particular ASD pupils - who have no issues with their social skills a dual placement can be the very thing they need to provide an appropriate level of interaction with their peers.

 My argument is that it needs to be the RIGHT setting, not just the school local to the child. With the RIGHT staff.. Staff aware of autism and SLD who know how to provide and assess their learning effectively. It has to be right for them AND the other children in the class/school.

For Child 2 - mum appeared to think that as our PMLD class was full of children in wheelchairs, that it would be ideal for them - she apparently didn't realise that the majority of them are P1-2. There is a PNI school which would also apparently be ideal for him - however they've been doing the wailing on a 15 minute journey to us so mum doesn't think they'll cope with a 40 minute one. In reality she's stuck between a rock and a hard place... With no slot for them to comfortably sit in educationally. For Child 1 - I'm hoping they'll agree to up his days at his other placement, mum seems to want to and at the moment it seems a better slot for him.

Thursday, 10 April 2014

My Journey

Seen a few posts like this recently and they've inspired me to write my own version.

I'm not even 30. I turn the big three oh in September when I'll have been teaching 7 years.
After college I applied straight away to university, I'd done Sports Science and was delighted to have been accepted to complete a degree with the intention of doing a PGCE and becoming a PE Teacher.

I'd always wanted to teach and Sports Science, whilst enjoyable didn't seem relevant to me, I didn't want to know the in depth scientific detail behind trampoline jumps... I wanted to know how to teach them. So slap bang in the middle of my first year, without taking any exams I dropped out and reapplied to Primary Education.

Now I was at home, I was finally learning the science behind teaching! It was what I'd always wanted to do and was very comfortable in a classroom. I completed my 4 year degree in 2008 and graduated with a 2:1 and got a job straight away. Mainstream, year 4 which I did for 2 years. I quickly learnt that my forte (can you have a forte that early in your career? - maybe not, I did though) was unpicking gaps in the knowledge of SEN learners and scaffolding their learning to fill the gaps to move on.

In learning this, I moved to work with pupils with moderate learning difficulties. Working with KS3 and 4 pupils ranging from P6-level 3. Again, I learnt a new forte, facilitating P scale learners to access the curriculum in a class of level 2-3 pupils. I only had 1 or 2 so a lot of adapting was required. It was then that I was encouraged to apply for an AST role and was observed several times with classes with P Scale students in and was praised heavily for their level of engagement and the differentiation I had to provide. I remained as an AST for just over a year and spent time supporting mainstream teachers including P Scale learners within their classes and designing curriculums/provision for them. I also completed a post graduate degree in Specific Learning Difficulties and became an  AMBDA qualified dyslexia tutor.

I left that job just under a year ago... Reluctantly. I moved from Essex to Suffolk with my partner and needed to relocate. I decided to make a change, whilst is enjoyed MLD I'd gotten to a stage where I needed a new challenge, something that I'd have to work hard at and develop new skills in. So I applied for jobs in Special Needs Schools where I'd be working with pupils with SLD and PMLD.

Well, as my original post on this blog said... I've had a massive culture shock. I'm still not at a stage where I feel that I'm 'good' at this job despite having received 2 observations of 'Good' and 'Outstanding' (however I'm pleased that I received outstanding as I had made significant changes to improve my classroom structure and teaching). I still find everyday that I'm learning, but not enough. I've always wanted to know more than I already do and in this job I can't seem to learn quick enough.

One of my biggest problems is I'm having to learn how to teach KS1 and EYFS - whilst learning about SLD and PMLD learners. I'm finding that I've yet to grasp my imaginative side and see as a 5 year old, especially a 5 year old with severe SEN! I'm getting there though... Just slowly, very slowly. Some days I come out frazzled, feeling like I've not succeeded in teaching anything, just mainly keeping them happy. Sometimes it's easier to avoid the battles that sitting and doing leads to with my ASD class. But, when asked if I wanted to move to KS4 recently... I said no.

So this is my journey, I think I'm in the right place.. Because I don't believe that a job should be easy. I want to have to think... To learn... To develop.

Wednesday, 19 March 2014

ICT: The Good, the Bad and the ugly!

A very rushed blog.

I appreciate that in this day and age (makes me feel old saying that!) that ICT is EVERYWHERE... whatever we do there is some sort of technology involved. There is a strong argument for ICT to be taught across the curriculum and embedded wherever possible in a range of contexts. However, is it always good for children to be so competent in ICT at the expense of other skills? Should we ignore the importance of the 3Rs as long as they are able to avoid them and use technology (calculators, spellcheck etc.) instead?

The reasoning behind this blog is as you all well know I teach SEN. My pupils are P1-4 and most are learning at a very sensory level. Most are learning through exploration and experiences and only 2 out of the 8 have begun any kind of recognisable work towards reading/writing. It has astounded me at their level of competency with regards to ICT. Most of my pupils are unable to dress themselves or even feed themselves but are all able to turn on and access very easily a computer and Ipad (including changing the programme from what they have been given, overriding an ipad locked app, and finding the programme they want on the computer). I appreciate I'm talking about a very small portion of the population and will now generalise hugely but from previous experience working within MLD and mainstream settings I believe this is often the case.

For example, I have seen that children often begin school now without basic dressing skills and have seen few that require personal care (toilet training) even within mainstream settings. The same children were easily able to access a challenging ICT task with no problems or issues. Now I'm aware that this would suggest that parenting has resorted to using computers as 'babysitters'. But where do we draw the line. surely it wouldn't be too much to expect to have to 'teach' ICT and not dressing?

I wonder if we are losing the traditional means of literacy, again talking about my own class. Most are at a stage where they are unable to utilise writing utensils (due to lacking in fine motor skills, or in some cases simply not wanting to) however, will all 'type' letters on the keyboard and access simple symbol writing programmes. For them, writing is going to be a very long journey... however, would it be wrong to suggest moving away from this and encouraging ICT instead? Or even alongside to allow them to avoid writing (in the traditional means) forever?

And of mainstream children? those with moderate learning difficulties? It seems more and more that we're moving away from 'BEST WRITING' on the walls and simply allowing them to type up their work, also conveniently allowing spelling and grammar checking instead of proof reading their work. Furthermore, I also recognise that for SEN children that computers are often an 'equaliser' within a classroom setting. Obviously, in this case I know that we shouldn't expect them to write loads (for example) if they haven't got the ability too on the other hand, how will they ever develop and improve if they are spoon fed with ICT instead?

Where do we draw the line? I genuinely feel that children now... whilst they have gained so much that we didn't have in terms of technology and ICT... are missing out on the difficulties we had to overcome. ICT should be taught, in my opinion as a standalone, to not only learn the practicality of using a computer but also so they appreciate and 'problem solve' to be able to work in life without it. Of course computers should be available across the curriculum but certainly NOT at the expense of critical 'old fashioned' skills. I don't believe we should be encouraging or facilitating children to believe that computers are there to solve the worlds problems and will always be there for whatever they need. I wonder how many NQTs are taught to survive a lesson without an interactive whiteboard?

Very rushed thoughts.


Sunday, 2 March 2014

Outstanding + Routines

I didn't realise it had been so long since I'd posted! I'm not good at this blogging thing. Prefer the whole 'What I think in 140 characters'!

Just prior to auld term I had my first observation from the head... I'd already had one since I started in September and received a 'Good' - ok, but since becoming an AST I was used to 'Outstanding'. Surprisingly, as the head was in for 50 minutes and the lesson she was watching was only 20ish minutes, she gave me an Outstanding overall. However, being little miss negative I couldn't help wondering whether the lesson would've been the same with my most difficult pupil being present instead of off with a tummy bug.

What was pleasing was that she observed a workbox session directly after music, watching the transition into a new lesson and seeing how I'm running them as an EYFS structure. She said it was very positive, particularly as the pupils were all engaged. I run a workbox session everyday (except Wednesdays at the moment due to swimming) and I have 4 members of staff. 2 of which run workboxes, 1 runs a maths session and 1 person floats with maths related eyfs activities (colour sorting, magnetic numbers in playdough, shape sorters etc.)

I also run Communication sessions, 2 per week (although only one at the moment due to swimming). 2 members of staff focus on running individual sessions within this based on communication IEP targets, 1 member of staff runs a literacy session and 1 floats with literacy related eyfs activities (magnetic letters in playdough, story sacks, magazines or comics, role play etc.)

My afternoon sessions cover art, DT, ICT etc. and these are run individually with free flow eyfs activities (more play based including a messy play activity). Science and RE are covered by my PPA cover teacher.

So that's my routine. We have circle time every morning on arrival and every afternoon before they leave. At the moment I feel it's working but would love more ideas for literacy/numeracy free flow activities for my communication/workbox activities. Something maths/literacy based I can throw in a black tray and allow them to float to!



Wednesday, 15 January 2014

PECs, Ipads and Communication

Something new I'm trying this term - having a session a week purely aimed at developing the communication of the pupils in my class.

I have 8 pupils - soon to be 9.

1 completely verbal but suffers with word finding difficulties.
1 fairly competent on PECs.
3 that use PECs for snack/lunch only.
1 pmld that mum is attempting to use PECs basic exchanges with.
1 that has just been given an Ipad (Proloquo?) to communicate with.
1 very basic language but chooses to use PECs at times.

Trying very hard to develop PECs in my 3 that use for lunch/snack only - however it is challenging when the others need attention as well. I'm definitely finding it challenging to find holding activities that will keep their attention for longer periods while staff focus their attention on individual pupils for sessions like this. I've planned so I have 2 or 3 completing activities with pupils and 1 floating to occupy floating children... but it's finding the resources to have out that will hold their attention.

One thing I also find difficult is trying to get the 1 with the Ipad to understand it is for communication and isn't just  toy (pressing 'Ambulance' over and over and over again... isn't helpful!). I appreciate that the ipads are a great tool to develop communication, but when they all have one at home to play with, they're struggling to understand that this one belongs to that child and doesn't have the Cbeebies app on!

I feel that developing communication is important because in this group in particular there is a lot of frustration coming out because they are unable to say or get across what they want or don't want.

Suggestions on how to run PECs sessions with KS1 pupils' would be greatly appreciated. Or ideas for holding activities - messy play/treasure baskets etc.

Find me on Twitter - @Ria1984

Sunday, 12 January 2014

PE, Schoolsafe and the first week back

My class are a Rec/Year 1 mix and as I said previously adjusting from the management style of KS3 has been a challenge, which would've been difficult enough except the schools policies and general paperwork differs between EYFS and KS1 so I'm having to get my head round two different ways of working...I have 2 EYFS students and their assessment is completely different to the other 7 pupils who are KS1. Still finding it a challenge to find time to make sense of CLL, PSED, PD and 'Specifics'  much less to plan for them in amongst my KS1 lesson planning, in an EYFS classroom set up!?

Anyway, the EYFS set up... Haven't really had a chance to evaluate yet as only really have 2 days where it will be used properly, due to nature of where assemblies, visits to soft play and pe lessons etc. fit in the week. One of my SSAs isn't convinced it will work due to not being able to observe "lessons" if pupils are taught individually (the SSAs are responsible for writing Learning Journeys for each subject). Had a difficult time explaining how it would work... However, my other SSAs are from EYFS so they're behind it and recognise that this group of children just can't sit and learn as a group. On Wednesday and Friday I used plastic buckets, with a "colour" and "letter" theme as an exploratory activity whilst pupils were doing work boxes 1:1. I'm not sure these occupied them well enough, even alongside a home corner. With their asd the pupils in my class tend to flit very quickly between activities/toys - suggestions of "areas" or activities to occupy them, or even better, allow them to occupy themselves would be greatly appreciated.

I'm really facing difficulties getting one in particular to move away from what he wants to do and do any activity. Even a workbox now, with 2-3 adult directed tasks... With plenty of warning through showing him it well in advance, leads to tears. I'm aware that he's just been off two weeks for Xmas, but this has been happening for a long while. Any advice would be welcome. He's yet to attend an assembly - just realises it's not what he wants to be doing/where he wants to be and screams. 

My biggest challenge this week is teaching PE. I've not taught PE for 5 years, as when I was in mainstream secondary within a SEN base I only taught English, Maths, Humanities and PSHE. So, tomorrow is my first attempt, luckily our PE coordinator has planned it for me, but still feeling rather uncomfortable. The main reason for this is that the pupils in my class tend to follow their own agenda... All the time. It's pretty difficult to teach PE 1:1 while the others get on with what they want. So slightly nervous about managing it.

I did a SchoolSafe course on Tuesday, in my honest opinion I didn't find it very useful as it mainly seemed to focus on self-defence. In my case, and I'm aware it might change, I don't feel this is as important for me as preventing them from hurting themselves and how to manoeuvre them if they are endangering themselves. Hopefully, in the future I may be sent on an advanced course which will include this. It was, however, useful in a sense of hearing the legislation and my own rights with regards to defending myself.

Friday, 3 January 2014

Introductions and stuff...

The beginning (again - I just selected all and pressed paste on my ipad and lost everything I'd written so this is v2).

So... 2014 and I've just started blogging, I'm well aware that I'm behind many many excellent teachers as I've read some incredible educational blogs but I thought as it's a new year and I turn the big 3-0 now would be a good time to start.

Plus, in September 2013 I embarked on a new, challenging era of my career and now I've had time to settle and reflect I feel this also indicates a good time to begin a blog. 

Just a small FYI this is my career journey thus far...

2008-2010 Mainstream KS2 Teacher (inc. NQT Year).
2010-2013 MLD Teacher KS3-KS4 + AST for SEN and supporting SENCO in mainstream secondary.
2013-present SLD and PMLD Teacher current class KS1/EYFS mix with high proportion of ASD pupils.

It was a real culture shock to me and what I initially found the biggest challenge in my new job was the movement, not from MLD to SLD/PMLD but the transition from KS3/4 down to KS1/EYFS - mainly the requirement of modifying my language (not in the sense that I constantly swear etc.) going from sentence level instructions down to 1-2 word phrases. 

In the new term, having learnt the ropes, and more importantly learnt a lot about the pupils in my class I'm intending to run my classroom with an EYFS structure and moving away from a constrictive KS1 timetable. This is due to the nature of my pupils who have yet to move on from their time in Reception classes. I found this very difficult at first and struggled to realise that they didn't all have to be sat nicely at a table to learn. I'm still not quite sure I'm there yet! 

One of the things I've gained since September and will carry through my career is the beneficial nature of Learning Journeys, I'm still developing my understanding of how to write them and have used twitter as a cpd tool for this but will continue to explore how to demonstrate pupils learning. Such a great link between classroom and parents.

Further to this, I'm in desperate need of EYFS training and more specifically how I can use an EYFS structure but still ensure my KS1 pupils (my class is KS1 heavy) can tick all their NC boxes. Which has just reminded me that I still need to look at the new NC?!

So... Despite being an AST and at one point (after completing my Masters) feeling quite knowledgeable about my field, I have now quite deliberately embarked on a challenging new journey and have found myself back at...

The Beginning. 

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