Wednesday, 8 February 2017

Destructive Behaviour - sabotaging rewards

Imagine the scenario... You've told your class that if they have a good week, complete their work to a decent standard, behave on the playground and are kind and considerate to one another that there will be a class reward at the end of the week - perhaps a disco. Everyone is doing great and on Thursday you remark that it looks like everyone is going to be going to the disco tomorrow! Then during the lunchbreak one your students is told off in the dinner hall for a minor misdemeanor. You remind him that he must behave or he won't be able to come to the disco tomorrow. This results in his behaviour spiralling out of control. He trashes his work, scribbles all over another student's work and refuses to listen to basic requests. Finally, you're forced to tell him that he won't be attending to the disco tomorrow. Your student sulks but the spiralling misbehaviour that has been going on this afternoon stops.

You'd be right to wonder what on earth is going on and why your student is behaving like that!?

I've had many students in my class who do this to a varying degree. Some will be as drastic as in the above scenario. While others will engage in less obvious avoidance behaviours. It appears to be caused by an array of different reasons - but fundamentally it comes from a place of fear. In my experience, it usually happens when a child is anxious about failing and so instead of putting their all into acheiving something and then having the upset of failing at it they sabotage their progress and ensure that they fail earlier rather than later. So in the example in my above scenario - the boy was frightened that he would lose the treat because of his behaviour, as a boy who has difficulty in controlling his emotions he is aware that it is a real possibility that he will 'lose' and so instead of enduring the pressure to succeed he controls the situation by ensuring that he misbehaves enough to entirely lose the treat and so not have to worry about it anymore.

So... what can we do to help him to help himself I can hear you asking?

1) The first thing to do is to ensure that the behaviour target set is acheiveable - you differentiate your lessons but do you differentiate your behaviour plans? Is expecting a child to behave all week to get their treat appropriate for every child? It's likely this isn't the case. For some children, it may be better to have a shorter time span of expected good behaviour before getting reward. So for example, my student in the scenario was given a 'working towards...' card. He could choose a reward that he would have at the end of the day if he received enough tokens. This was much more acheivable for him as he knew he was able to behave for that period of time and the anxiety of needing to succeed was lessened. He also knew it was ok if he didn't succeed one day and that he would be given the chance to start again the next day. Whereas with the disco scenario he knew if he messed up that was it for the rest of the week.

2) Give your student easy ways to communicate to you when they are feeling stressed or anxious. When a child is feeling pressured their ability to articulate their feelings will decrease. This happens to all of us - imagine a time when you were feeling very stressed - perhaps a job interview - it often happens that an adult will find that the words and sentences that usually come to them with ease are harder to formulate. Now if an adult feels like this in times of stress imagine how much more difficult it must be for a child. The way I try to combat this in my classroom is to have an emotions display with emotions cards. The children all have their picture on the display and can move their picture to the feeling card on the display to communicate to me or our teaching assistant how they are feeling. I also go a step further and give emotions cards to children who particularly struggle so that they can communicate to me without the rest of the class being aware of how they are feeling. All they need to do is hand me the card to show they are feeling anxious.

3) Provide an 'out' for your students. What are your students to do when they feel entirely overwhelmed and feel an extreme urge to misbehave? Do you give them an alternative to misbehaving or expect them to be able to over come the overwhelming urge they have? Most children will develop their own coping mechanisms for when they feel overwhelmed. They may shut their eyes momentarily, count to ten, press their hands together tightly and grimace - others cry or ask for help. But for some children they need to be provided with a coping mechanism to use until they have developed their own. In my classroom I use a quiet corner for this. I have explained to all my children that they can use the quiet corner whenever they feel they need to get away from the class group for a minute or two. The corner is equipped with some cushions, a blanket, some stress balls, and a few books. I explained that if they go and sit there I will know that they are feeling stressed and that I will try to help them. It means that they have a place to go and to calm down before I speak to them and without disturbing the rest of the class.

I've found by implementing these strategies that behaviour that sabotages treats and special occasions has decreased.

Have you found strategies that work in your classroom? I would love to hear how you reduce this kind of behaviour in your classroom - you can leave comments about your strategies below!

Saturday, 28 January 2017

Supporting children with word finding difficulties in the classroom

So you have a child in your class who has been seen by the Speech and Language Therapist who has explained to you that she has word finding (or word retrieval) difficulties.You've been given some information by the therapist on how to support her and you've searched for some ideas online yourself. Then you wonder... how do I implement these strategies? Do I need to send this child out for one to one support to work on these strategies or can they be worked on within the classroom? These are all the questions that flew through my mind the first time I taught a child who received this diagnosis and I'm here to explain how I implemented the strategies in my own classroom!

First I looked at the different strategies. There was pre-teaching of vocabulary, using prompts of sounds and descriptions for words, and then using games and activities to help the child to refile words so that they were easier for them to retrieve. Then I considered how different strategies could be used inside and outside of the classroom.

  1. Pre-teaching vocabulary: I found that pre-teaching vocabulary for certain topics was so helpful for the individual child. It meant they had a head start on knowing the words before the topic came up and were more likely to offer up answers during whole class and group discussions. To pre-teach the vocabulary I would make up word mats of the vocabulary which could be sent home. The photograph on the right shows a word mat of vocabulary for our topic on the story of Little Red Riding Hood. I considered the key words that the child would need and used visuals to further support her being able to recall the words when we would later discuss the story. I then had my teaching assistant go over the words with her one to one. I also sent a copy of the mat home with her and explained to her parents that these would be key words in our work the following week on this story. 
  2. Prompts during class: When it came to whole class and small group discussions I found that the child might still forget the word she was looking for. So I would use the prompts our speech therapist had explained. I would use fill in the blank sentences eg. When asking a question I might say 'Little Red Riding Hood met a ______ in the woods.' and wait for her to fill in the blank with wolf. Sometimes she would and other times she would need other prompts such as 'oh the big scary animal' or 'the animal that starts with a /w/ sound.' These promps support the child to file the word correctly in their mind so that next time they are asked a question they will be able to retrieve the word by remembering the associations that were used to support them to retrieve it last time. 
  3. Dual support activities: So you may have only one child in the class with word finding difficulties and think this means you can't pair them up with another child to work on this specific skill. However, this is not true! You can pair children up to work on different skills but using the same game or activity. For example, this game to the right focuses on starting sounds and categories which would support a child with word finding difficulties to practice associating words with both their starting sound and the category they come in. However, you may have other children who would benefit from this type of game such as children who need further support with phonics and identifying starting sounds. There is nothing stopping you pairing these children up to play the same game or do the same activity while targetting different skills. 
What ways have you found to incorporate support activities into your classroom? If you have other ideas then I would love to hear them. You can leave ideas in the comments section below. 

Sunday, 6 March 2016

Pop-up Science Museum in a bank?!

I recently visited Cambridge with my husband and popped into the Barclays Bank branch there to get some cash out of the ATM.

To my surprise there were a number of children in the branch gathered around a range of activities! As it turns out, the bank branch has a pop up science museum! It has activities for mixing colours of light and for seeing what the world looks like to people who have different perceptions of colour or colour blindness. There were a number of other little stands with hands on equipment for children and young people to use too but I didn't get the chance to look at it all.

How the world is perceived to people with different forms of colour blindness.

What colours do you get when you mix the different colours of light?
I just can't get over what a fabulous idea this is! Something to keep children's brains busy while they are waiting for a parent at the bank. I love it!

Sunday, 31 January 2016

DIY Sensory Board

One of my amazing colleagues suggested we make a sensory board for the children in our class. She and another colleague were so enthusiastic about it that I was swept up in the enthusiasm and went on a treasure hunt around the stock room to find things to go onto the board. It is surprising how much you can find just lying around the stock cupboard!

So we found items with different textures and different colours! We found shiny items, mirrors, stretchy items, sparkly items, rough and smooth items and everything in between. We got out our trusty stapler and handy velcro and started attaching everything to the board! Once we had finished it we invited our colleagues from other classes and our lovely cleaner in to see it. Our cleaner couldn't resist touching the pom pom which is just the reaction we are hoping for when our class see the board on Monday.

Working with many children with sensory processing disorders means you have to keep thinking of new ways to support children in being able to regulate their sensory feelings. Some children are sensory seeking and have a desparate need to experience sensory feelings. This board will support those children to get those sensory experiences in a safe and appropriate way.

Take a look at the pictures! I'm sure you could make your own DIY sensory board with the materials lying around your stockroom or home too!

 We covered the board with this golden sparkly cloth to invite children to see what excitement is beneath!
And here it is! Our wonderful sensory board. It has stretchy materials, rough materials, furry materials, mirrors, sparkly bits and even moving parts.

I can't wait until our class see this on Monday!

Sunday, 24 January 2016

We are learning about rhyming words and word families!

I'm always looking for new ways to teach different concepts and I love to give children ownership of their own learning. I've recently been thinking about how to teach the concept of rhyming words (or word families) in an interesting way. While I was drinking at a local coffee shop and stacking up the used cups I came to think that these could be used for this purpose!

So I took two cups from my picnic supplies at home. I used one cup to write the ending sounds or word families on such as 'og' and 'at'. I then used the other cup to write the beginning sounds I wanted on e.g. b, m and c as seen in the photo below.

I then inserted the two cups together to make words. The cups can then be twisted around to form new words that rhyme and belong to different word families. For instance in the photograph below the c can be twisted upwards to join 'ap' to make 'cap. I think children would enjoy making their own versions and deciding on their own rhyming word endings and starting sounds. The activity would be able to address both rhyming words and word families, sounding out CVC words, and also looking at nonsense words as not every combination would make a real word. This would allow children to think about both the sounding out of words and also the meanings of words as they could talk about whether the word they make is real or not. 

Sunday, 17 January 2016

What I'm teaching this week - Phonics!

Now that I am working in our Early Years Classroom this term I am teaching phase 2 phonics much more. This week our focus is on the sound /t/. As I work with children with a range of SEN needs I try to incorporate a multisensory approach to what I teach.

Visual: My Mother created this adorable bags for each of the sounds. The one in the picture is for the sound /t/. I then filled this with a jelly letter t, objects and pictures of things that start with /t/.

Tactile: I make sure that the bag is filled with items that begin with the sound and a jelly letter for that sound so that the children can touch and feel the different items and the letter. They can also trace their finger over the letter or trace around the letter. My Mother also sewed a letter t onto the bag from felt which has a different texture to the bag itself.

Auditory: At my school we use the Jolly Phonics (search on google for their resources) resources for a lot of our phonics teaching. I have a copy of the CD which has the Jolly Phonics songs for each sound. We play the song and sing a long! We also practice saying the sound to one another. This is a huge part of the learning for my children as many have speech and language difficulties too.

Kinaesthetic: Following on from the Jolly Phonics songs, they also have a movement for each sound. In the case of /t/ it is moving your head back and forward as if watching a tennis match while also saying the sound as if it is the ball being hit. We also use movement to sound out words. We use round textured disks on the floor and children can jump from disk to disk using them as stepping stones while saying the sounds in the words they are sounding out.

I don't generally use taste and smell in my phonics lessons but if the sound is also a food such as a tomato then we may incorporate that item into our cooking lessons that week!

How do you incorporate different sensory experiences into your phonics teaching? Tell us in the comments section below!

Tuesday, 5 January 2016

5 Tips I have learnt for working in a special needs school!

Working in a special needs school or class for the first time can be a bit daunting even if you have experience outside of the classroom. How can you adapt the curriculum to meet your children's needs, how can you ensure that all the children in your class have individual learning opportunities, will you be able to handle behaviours and different communication needs?

Below are 5 tips I have learnt from my own experience working in a special needs school. I am sure there are many more and would love to hear other people's ideas in the comments below.

1) Remember that all children are individuals: - I'm sure you will have done a lot of research on different special needs before you decided to go for a job in a specal needs school and you may have read in depth about different special needs such as autism, adhd, down syndrome etc.It's certainly good to do research and to have a good understanding of different strategies and techniques you can use within the classroom, but it is important to remember that children are individuals whether they have special needs or not. Not all children, with for example autism, are going to be the same. Some of the children with autism that I have worked with have been quiet and enjoyed very methodical activities such as construction whereas other children with autism have been loud, animated and loved to make up and tell their own stories. Take each child as you find them and use their interests to motivate them in the activities you prepare for them.

2) Break down tasks into manageable steps: - This is a good tip for anybody working with children and teaching new skills. Many of the smallest tasks we do each day are actually quite complex. Think about eating your dinner with a fork or spoon. First you need to be able to hold something in your hand, then you need to be able to move the spoon to your plate, you then need to scoop the food stuff onto your spoon before balancing it carefully on the spoon and bringing the spoon to your mouth. For some of our children this task can prove very difficult and that's before we get into the complexity of mouth movements and chewing the food! Make sure you have broken down any tasks into their smallest parts and teach the skills needed for each part and give frequent opportunities for practicing them.

3) Get to know symbols and pictures: - many children with special needs will have communication difficulties. They may find it difficult to understand verbal language and some may find it difficult to remember what has been said. Once you have said your words (or signed them using Makaton or BSL) they will have disappeared. If a child is struggling to understand the words have disappeared before they have had a chance to process them. Use symbols and pictures to accompany what you say and sign for a total communication approach and as a permanent reminder of what you are communicating. 

4) Use positive language to address behaviours: - You may come across behaviours that you find challenging. It is always a good idea to read the behaviour plans for each individual child so that you know what to do in these circumstances. However, don't make the mistake I did of using negative language to tell a child to stop. I asked a child to 'stop shouting.' When a child is in a heightened state of anxiety and are using challenging behaviour to communicate this to you, they will find it even more difficult to understand than when they are calm and happy. They may only hear the last word you said which in my case was 'shouting.' They may take this as a direction to shout more! Try to use positive words about what you want the child to do instead. For example, if a child is running instead of saying 'don't run' say 'please walk' instead. In my situation I could have said 'speak quietly' and used a calm and quiet voice myself.

5) Use the knowledge of other professionals:- It is likely that other professionals such as advisory teachers, psychologists, speech therapists and occupational therapists will have a lot of input into the teaching and learning of the pupils you work with. USE this to your advantage. These people have a wealth of knowledge and ideas but don't often get to use these to their full advantage as they don't work with the children they assist on a regular basis. I have had excellent input and advice from different professionals. I have had brilliant advice from an occupational therapist and set up sensory programs to help with sensory processing disorders, set up hand writing programs for children with fine motor skills difficulties and sensory input for children who just found some of our class activities difficult. Don't be afraid to try new approaches in your classroom!