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My placement is based at Mayfield Special School in Torquay. It has around 100 pupils aged 2-19. Many of the children will attend the school for the whole 17 years. The children at the school are divided into 2 broad groups.
Those with severe learning difficulties; communication, visual impairment and developmental delay, often with associated challenging behaviours. (SLD).
The other group is comprised of children with profound and multiple learning difficulties - the majority of these pupils need high levels of support in all areas, most are unable to stand, or walk and many need assistance in personal care and medical needs, a lot of the teaching for (PMLD) is based around a sensory curriculum.
Mainstream Policy and SEN Children
The issue of the integration of children with special educational needs (SEN) into mainstream school initiatives has become not just a contemporary political question about the best way to run the education system, but is for some also a debate on social justice (Conner and Ferri, 2007). This is one reason I chose to take part in the complementary placement at Mayfield School. Rachael Hurst, project director of Disability Awareness in Action, feels that only when every child with a disability or special educational need has the right to all mainstream school policy real equality will have been achieved in the education system (Inham, 2000). Similarly, Oliver (1996), argues that in being denied access to the same curriculum and initiatives as everyone else, the educational opportunities of children with SEN will remain limited. This means they are not treated as equals to other children, and is what brought me to decide to use my history and geography specialism and knowledge of making connections with outside agencies to produce a Learning Outside The Classroom initiative on their behalf.
Relationships with teachers as well as other Professionals (Informed from reflection)
I wish to develop my skills in communication between different professionals and also in dealing with differing opinions. I will, therefore, turn my attention towards the attitude of the teachers as well as other educational professionals inside and outside the school, including Speech Therapists, Physiotherapists and Educational Officers, to aid the production of the initiative (Frost, 2005).
Baker and Gottlieb (1980), along with Galloway and Goodwin (1987), have argued that as educational professionals are responsible for implementing any government policy within the education system, they have an enormous influence over whether they are successful or not (Leyser and Abrams, 1983; Vlachou, 1997). Professionals' attitudes also play a fundamental role in the success or failure of the moves towards learning outside the classroom as well as other government policy. As such, the aim of this project is to examine the attitudes of all involved to aid the production of the initiative (Thompson, 2003).
This brought the conclusion that the question for this project should be as follows;
"In conjunction with other professionals identify inclusive outdoor learning opportunities on the school grounds as well as possible local resources that can be brought to the school and finally possible site visits, all of which can relate to the school's curriculum and philosophy (McGee et al, 1987).""
Basic academic reading done during this module has taught me that, now more than ever, there is an opportunity for all learners, regardless of need to be able to benefit from learning outside the classroom (Pearson & Aloysius, 1994, Dcsf, 2008, Carnegie UK Trust, 1985).
This is backed by a push in government legislation to increase the inclusiveness of public areas of education, as well as more inclusive educational reforms including the 1981 Act on Special Needs, 1988 Education Reform Act and the 1992, Education Bill, as well as Every Child Matters (2003) (Warnock, 1978).
The focus of any success of this project lays in the idea of understanding your learners' individual needs, children working to the QCA P-scales (2005), and also an ability to cross relate these needs to the other professionals you will be using, for example, the Educational Officer at the National Trust (Frost, 2005 & Thompson, 2003).
Appendix 4 shows an extended reading list that will inform this project.
The Aims for this Project include the following:
My Preliminary Aim (informed from reflection):
Identify outdoor education opportunities currently on offer throughout the school.
Identify learners' needs.
How are the activities monitored/linked to the curriculum?
Check the risk assessment procedures.
Meet with class teachers and other professionals.
Look at all curriculum plans.
Meet with Jo Blakeman (Resource Manager) regarding planning and resources.
Accompany classes on existing visits.
My Secondary Aim:
Identify and assess, where possible, certain local resources linked to the curriculum could be introduced. (See appendix 5)
Investigate sensory and affective learning in outdoor education.
My Final Aim:
Report back with findings in an initiative to Colin May to be delivered to all Staff.
When deciding which methods to use for the project it did not take long for me to settle on the idea of interviews and literature reading, because I generally favour methods that gather qualitative data. Whilst reading about interviews, I identified the idea of creative interviewing used by Douglas (1985). The creative interview runs more like a conversation than a structured interview, there are no fixed questions and the flow of the interview depends entirely on the interviewee's answers (Holstien and Gubrium, 1995).
Chosen methodology informed by critical incident
The focus in creative interviews is fashioning an atmosphere of intimacy and trust, in which the interviewee feels their knowledge is valued, in Douglas's words;
"The creative interviewer is the handmaiden of knowledge and wisdom who must become a supplicant to those who have both" (Douglas, 1985, p.55).
You go into an interview ready to listen and learn, not express how much you know on the topic (through educational jargon, or pressured questioning), otherwise you can make the interviewee feel like their knowledge is worthless or unappreciated. This will be very important when dealing with possible venues for outside learning, who may not have educational expertise, but also with fellow colleagues, and this is related to my critical incident and will be discussed later (Douglas, 1985).
This method seemed appropriate for my topic, as I need to discover what people's attitudes are, which can be problematic, as people are not always forthcoming with them. Douglas argues that people are naturally guarded and the interviewer must do more than simply ask a question to get a truthful answer. Therefore, the aim of the creative interview is to attempt to put people at ease so they can express their real attitudes.
Creative Interviews Strengths and Weaknesses
The interview method has many advantages, but perhaps most importantly, it tends to provide valid results, meaning the results will reflect the truth of the situation being researched (Haralambos, 1983). It does this in a number of ways. Firstly, interviews tend to have open questions, meaning the answer will be more detailed, and can be followed up with another question, rather than a tick in a box, as in closed question surveys. The more detail there is, the better the researchers' understanding of the interviewees' opinions and attitudes will be. Interviews also allow the interviewees to ask "what do you mean by . . ." when presented with a question which could have different interpretations for different people, allowing the interviewer to elaborate to be understood better, so the question is answered in the best possible way (Haralambos and Holborn, 2004).
Douglas points out that in objective "scientific" methods there is little thought to whether a question, and the available answers, will mean the same thing to all the participants. In interviews, however, this doesn't matter as much, because people are given the chance to explain their attitudes without having to fit them into strict categories, such as "strongly agree", or "disagree", they can explain why they agree and how strongly they agree with an issue (Douglas, 1985). It could also be argued that interviews, if non-threatening and non-judgmental, can lead to people expressing thoughts they might not voice in everyday life for fear of judgement from other people. This is because they are given the chance to explain and defend why they feel a particular way, without fearing rejection from peers.
The downsides to conducting in-depth interviews, is that they are not easy to replicate, and they tend not to have representative samples, meaning they cannot be easily generalised to a wider population (Haralambos and Holborn, 2004). Also, as interviews provide a lot of information, which has to be transcribed and analysed, they can be very time-consuming. The advantage of using quantitative data is that it tends to produce percentages and numbers, which can make it easier to see trends, they also tend to have large samples because it takes less time to analyse the data, and this increases the likelihood that it will be more representative (Haralambos, 1983). I would, however, argue that the extra work for qualitative methods is worth the time, as the results seem more informative.
* For my CP2 Form please see Appendix 1.
Ethics is an important consideration, which I will now take into account. I will ensure when conducting interviews that I provide an information sheet that will state what I am doing, any ethical concerns that may be raised, and how I would address them, and the details of the university, the project and me.
The ethical concerns that need to be taken into account when performing interviews include: gaining consent, reassuring the interviewees that the information would be confidential and anonymous, and that the interviewee could withdraw at any time (Oliver, 2003 & Farrell 2005).
My host and I will also give details about progress on a weekly basis. We will give anyone who is unsure about being interviewed an opportunity to discuss any issues, and withdraw if necessary. The details of the university would also be available, in the unlikely invent that I behave in an upsetting or inappropriate manner, and they wished to complain (Oliver, 2003).
I believe the possible conclusions I will come to from this placement are the importance of listening to your peers, and also using other professionals' expertise in my future practise.
I am also confident that I will gain an insight into barriers for learning, and how children can overcome those barriers with the right strategies. This will aid my future practise and help ensure I can deliver the Every Child Matters (2004) initiative in the future.
Finally, I think I will achieve an understanding of how important positivity and hard work can be in creating something you believe in, as well as finding out what it takes to produce an initiative for a school, I will be able to carry these skills into my future practise.
My evaluations will come throughout my learning experience, through reflection, but also through the school's use of what I have created. Whether they continue to carry out the recommendations made will be interesting, and if they don't, then why not? All these answers will be helpful to my future practice.
Part B- Reflection
Reflection has been key in this module in regards to focusing not only on my placement, but also on my own professionalism (Bolton, 2005 & Moon, 2004). I have found it difficult not to become too sceptical, and have discovered the importance of finding positives and negatives in situations, and how I can learn from these, and use it in the coming years, I now see this as vital.
The upcoming placement is a perfect opportunity to expand my knowledge and understanding of learning outside the mainstream classroom, and also how this can be applied to benefit my own teaching. This placement will be like no other I have encountered and will push me into previously unknown areas within a school environment, such as working with other professionals (Guirdham, 1996), and working independently and collaboratively with many different departments (Macdonald, 1995). Seeing how a school and other organisations run from top to bottom, and meeting a vast array of philosophies and opinions are exciting prospects and can only be beneficial to my progress as a teacher.
Reflection has been an aid to the formulation of this proposal through the module, and I have little doubt that it will continue to be an important skill required throughout the placement and beyond. Examples of early reflections informing opinion and decisions can be seen below.
Reflection 1 - A Critical Incident
What actually happened?
During a visit to the school, I found some hostility from some members of staff, about my presence at the school, and the reasons behind the placement. (See appendix 2)
Why did it happen?
It may have been due to a lack of communication around the school about the possible placement member, and my intentions while I was there. It was also a question of the children and the professionals in their care having clear expectations of their children, and they may be worried about me upsetting the balance.
How did you feel at the time?
At the time of the incident I felt anxious, defensive and negative about my proposal's aims.
How do you feel now and what you have learnt?
I now feel that while social-construction (Burr, 1995) and determinism (Kenrick, 2003) are things we have to face in both special education and life, it is not something that should be used as an excuse for negativity, and, indeed, as Swain et al (1993) show in "Disabling Barriers - Enabling Environments", there is scope for existentialism and positivity (Hong et al, 2000). My peers brought me to this conclusion during a meeting in which I was able to discuss this problem, and this was suggested as a solution. This solution also informed me in choosing "creative interviews", and my primary aims for the project. These include being positive and looking at what the school has already achieved in terms of learning outside the classroom, and also listening to the alternative point of view with purpose, in a positive and understanding way (Long, 2005).
Throughout this module I have also learnt the importance of speaking with your peers about issues, and that can be gained by sharing your concerns with your contemporaries can be very helpful.
What might you have done differently?
I would have tried to organise my visit in conjunction with a staff meeting, so that I could have introduced myself and set out my intentions to meet with staff and discuss the placement's aims with them (Frost, 2005).
Reflection 2 - Reflection Log
Before my academic reading on the school's philosophy being based around McGee et al's (1987) principles, and also what children with special needs can gain from outside learning, I held the opinion that learning was coming second to the care and contentedness of the children (Appendix 2). However, following my reading on their philosophy and their opinion on cultural excursions, I have been brought to a new conclusion.
It is the case that there is, in fact, a far wider understanding of what it means to "learn" than I first thought. In fact, there is variety in human ability. As a mainstream teacher I have, perhaps, always looked solely at the basic and academic skills of learning, but there is so much more to be gained from outside learning, not only for special needs children but also for mainstream demographic. Learning outside the classroom can also;
"offer not only diversion and enjoyement but can provide insights into the human condition and enviornment not achievable in any other way." p.4 (Carnegie UK Trust, 1985).
Human ability and the idea of intelligence can take a far wider variety of form than is regonised in the classroom (Austin, 2007). For example, through the use of galleries and musuems, children can;
"not only express, but actually formulate ideas and perceptions which cannot be comprehended so precisely in any other form." p.86 (Carnegie UK Trust, 1985)
and, indeed, museums allow children to show;
"ciritcal awareness of artâ€¦can gain confidence in formulating and expressing views on paintings, artifacts and sculpture. In the world of muesums and galleries they may blossom, rising above the sense of failure and frustration induced by their less successful performance in other learning skills." p.16 (Pearson & Aloysius, 1994).
Pollard (2008) promotes this type of reflective learning as vital to any successful teacher's pedagogy, and I plan to have an open mind to the types of learning that take place at the school, and how they can be enhanced outside the classroom.
Reflection 3 - Reflection Log
My final reflection is also one of my earliest ones. It was the difficulty in finding a placement. I did find it hard to get motivation for the placement module, when I still didn't have a placement to attend. It was also an issue of confidence; rejection of your skills and expertise makes it hard to sell yourself to organisations. Fortunately I have learnt a very important professional skill, which is never to give up, and the importance of being clear what your strengths and weaknesses are when dealing with a task such as employment. I have learnt the importance of different styles of communication when trying to be organised, and, once again, what a difference a positive attitude can have on an eventual outcome (Long, 2005).