Without dedicated funding and limited resources to support the particular student, teachers often report feeling somewhat helpless. In these cases, teachers tend to feel that the demands of the curriculum are forever exceeding the level of the student’s abilities and that the child is not receiving a satisfactory amount of support in accordance with their educational needs.
In addition, the students themselves begin to feel discouraged at school, as their academic successes are inconsistent and subpar compared to their peers. This can lead to feelings of stress, poor self-efficacy and poor self-esteem.
While acknowledging that each student and their circumstances are unique, there are some simple steps that school staff alongside parents can take to facilitate discussion about the student’s needs and begin planning for appropriate interventions within the resources available.
1: Be self-forgiving. In most cases, it is a reality that the level of adjustments required to extensively support this child may be beyond what you as one person (with 20+ students to simultaneously support) can achieve in a classroom setting. Be prepared to accept that your absolute best efforts as a teacher may only account for a portion of the adjustments that the child requires.
2: Assessment. The first step to providing individualised support to a student with educational needs is to understand what their unique learning needs are.
The type of assessments that will be completed/sought will depend on the presenting concerns (medical, language, cognitive, sensory etc.). For example, children who experience difficulties with comprehension/with their expressive vocabulary may benefit from a language assessment.
It is more than likely that if a child has been identified as having significant educational needs that standardised assessment would have already been completed to identify the specific strengths and targets for intervention of the child.
Usually children with identified difficulties in school systems are referred for a cognitive (or psychoeducational)/language assessment (depending on the presenting concerns) which is usually completed by the Psychologists/Speech Pathologists in the Student Support Services team.
This service is of no cost to the family/school, however waiting periods may vary. Once school staff and parents are aware of the child’s level of functioning in the relevant areas, individualised support planning can commence.
3: Plan. A collaborative support system (containing teachers, parents and external service providers if any) for these children is essential in supporting the student’s unique needs. It is important that this support system discuss each area of development and who/what will be responsible for this aspect of intervention.
For example, if it was identified that the child has complex sensory needs, then a classroom sensory diet can be developed in conjunction with an external Occupational Therapist and implemented by the classroom teacher daily. In addition, a Psychologist may suggest appropriate social-emotional strategies that can be implemented in a classroom setting.
To facilitate discussion about the unique needs of your student, I have summarised just a couple of general examples of recommendations that may be suggested in a planning meeting. However, it is important that the support team maintain their unique goals to one or two important objectives at a time and do not overwhelm the student with too many interventions at any one time.
- It is recommended that the student’s teaching team be very realistic as to what the child is expected to comprehend and what level of work they can achieve. Students may take twice the amount of time to grasp certain concepts and there may be some things that they will not be able to learn. At this point alternative curriculums may be considered.
- It is recommended that teacher’s aim to reduce the overall amount of visual information to be stored in visual and verbal memory across all areas of the classroom to ensure that the student’s limited short-term memory does not become overloaded. For example, cut down the amount of pictures on worksheets for them, amount of text to read or highlight the important parts of the text for them to quickly locate.
- It should be the aim of the teacher to allow the student to meaningfully encode and retain information which can be achieved in a number of ways:
> sitting the student away from distractions to minimise competing sensory information
> weaving their interests into the curriculum to increase engagement and meaningful understanding of the information.
> using concrete and real life examples from the student’s own life and relating it to the concepts being discussed.
> using a multi-sensory approach to learning rather than simply verbal discussion
- It is recommended that the student be provided with repetition of concepts and examples with every discussion.
- These students can create a ‘self-help guide’ that’s meaningful to them which can outline how certain tasks are tackled and they can refer to this when they are expected to complete something similar in the future. Eg: Youtube is popular with children these days, so the child could film a self-help video with their teacher on their iPad that they believe is a ‘Youtube tutorial’ that they can refer to later.
- Students should be provided with more time to complete work or complete even simple class transitions. During class discussions, is recommended that he/she be allowed to take photos of the board with his iPad to alleviate pressure to rapidly take notes OR record sessions so that they can listen to sessions, pause, rewind and review sessions. Transitions can be visually mapped or pre-discussed before the class begins.
- If additional time cannot be provided, it is recommended that the quality of work be the sole focus of the teacher rather than quantity.
- The student may benefit from being provided with practical alternatives to abstract tasks.
- It is important that the student’s parents provide the student with opportunities to practice and work on their area of development at home (for example, placing word cards around the house or implementing a ‘word of the week’ for students with limited vocabulary).
- It is usually recommended that the student’s teacher collaborate with an Occupational Therapist to assess the student’s motor and sensory needs. Should the child exhibit sensory seeking or avoidant behaviour that inhibits their ability to participate in the classroom, it is recommended that a sensory diet be developed as well as remedial writing strategies if required.
Social-Emotional / Behavioural
- Creating boundaries that are clear, predictable and implemented consistently.
- Blending difficult academic tasks with rewarding activities that the child has selected.
- Discussing the child’s behaviour with a collaborative strengths based approach or if the child is triggered by “getting into trouble” a role play or discussion around the behaviour with the entire class may be helpful.
- Individualised learning plans may seek to contain goals around the theme of self-esteem and self-efficacy if they are exhibiting poor self-efficacy and avoidant/anxious behaviours towards academic tasks.
- It is recommended that the student be provided with a safe place to co-regulate with a staff member of choice.
- When deemed developmentally appropriate, it is recommended that the student engage with a Psychologist in an individual or group therapy setting to target their emotional and behavioural difficulties.
- Enrolling the student into an extra-curricular activity that they enjoy/are good at (such as soccer) would greatly benefit the child, as it maintains a sense of mastery and sense of self-efficacy.
- External tutoring can assist students in grasping the foundational skills that they may have missed. Tutoring can allow the student to attain particular skills in an area of academic difficulty at his/her own pace in a 1:1 supported environment. This is particularly recommended for children who are suspected to have a Specific Learning Disorder.
- If possible and available to the school, the student can spend time with a Learning Support Officer to receive support for particularly challenging school tasks.
4: Review and Revise
Pay attention to how the student is responding to the planned interventions and seek to implement these consistently for a minimum of four weeks. Review the student’s progress with the support team and make revisions to the approach/interventions as required. It is also important that progress is reflected on and the interventions evaluated by the child themselves. Overall, it is vital that the support team work hard to ensure that the student feels supported and successful in order for them to thrive from appropriate intervention.
Stella Franzese is a Hopscotch & Harmony Psychologist who is particularly passionate about working with children with Autism Spectrum Disorder, Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and children with academic difficulties. Her love for working with children is fuelled by her belief that quality early intervention significantly improves a child’s functioning and sets children up for their future.