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Within unit two of planning and enabling learning, we as students were required to research the following areas: Negotiating with Learners, Inclusive Learning, Integrating Functional Skills and Communication.
Research was completed on the four topics to help increase understanding and background knowledge of the areas. Further examination of these topics would allow me to think about the way in which I teach my students, be able to incorporate the ideas and illustrate the process of teaching and learning using these methods.
During the research, it was intended that we explore the topics given, selecting and analysing material and using it to relate to the specialised area in which we teach.
Initially, we worked as a group to research areas of communication and their barriers which we were then to present back to other students as a micro teaching session. Petty (2004, pg 219) suggests that group work is active and gives students '…chance to use the methods, principles and vocabulary that they are being taught.'
Communication, especially two way communication, is essential to creating a high quality learning environment. Communication can take many forms. Internet site Wikipedia (2009) defines communication as '…the activity of conveying information.' When one thinks of communication it is often only thought as verbal (spoken or written word). However, non verbal communication is as vital as verbal. Non verbal communication can come in the form of body language, British Sign Language or Makaton. Since I teach students with learning disabilities and hearing impairments it is essential that I am aware of basic Makaton hand signals and student's use body language. This is so I can ensure they are taking on any information that is being taught and they understand the content. It also allows me assess that learning has taken place. In view of the fact that the majority of my students are illiterate, it is essential that I rely not only on the written word but on symbols to reinforce the content of the session being taught.
As a tutor, you will be expected to communicate with a multitude of people including colleagues, awarding bodies, inspectors etc but mainly with your students. It is essential that when communicating with your students that '…what you are communicating is accurate, not ambiguous or biased and is expressed in a professional manner.' (Gravells, 2008 pg 72). Listening skills are a less familiar form of communication, but active listening and probing as suggested by Armitage et al (1999) are essential to help us try and understand what students are saying to us, when sometimes their messages are not always clear or apparent.
Achieving two way communications with our students is not straightforward. Barriers can often present themselves. It is crucial that a teacher can identify barriers and help students overcome them. Petty (2004) suggests that inappropriate level of work, jargon, vocabulary and other use of language, environmental factors, fear of failure and an inapproachable teacher can be barriers to students learning experience. Due to it being the responsibility of the teacher to identify barriers, initial assessment must be where we begin to ascertain any problems. Consequently, this assessment should be ongoing to ensure that any further barriers that a student comes across can be overcome. Because as teachers we know that all students learning styles vary we need to modify our material so to reach all styles and levels. As Petty (2004) suggests, teachers often have a larger vocabulary that their students. This is routinely the case when working with students with learning disabilities, therefore a teacher must ensure they keep their language simple as not create a barrier for the learner. The list of barriers can be endless, but as teacher we need to be aware of the factors that can inhibit the learning process. A teacher requires constant feedback and to observe to recognise any barriers that may present to ensure all students the equally opportunity to succeed.
Another area that we researched, through individual research and peer micro teach sessions, was Inclusive Learning. 'Inclusive learning is about recognising that each of your learners is different from other learners in many ways, and should not be excluded from any of your activities within your sessions for any legitimate reason.' (Gravells 2008, pg 21).Teaching and learning sessions should be devised so that all students can participate and reach their learning goals and feel a sense of achievement. We as teachers must select the correct resources and deliver them in a manner that will include all types of learners. It is essential that we adapt session plans to suit these resources and delivery methods to try and give all learners an equal chance of succeeding. Working with adults with learning disabilities, it is crucial that we identify the needs of the learner early on in the course, especially through initial assessment, to ensure that the right amount of support is given so that students can achieve.
As Petty (2004) suggests the verbal channel of communication is the one most often used in teaching, but for many purposes visual information is more effective. Research shows that information enters our brain in the following way: 87% by eyes, 9% by ears and 4% by other senses. Visual aids offer variety and interest and are often a form of teaching in which I rely on as a teacher of adults with special learning needs. This is due to many of the students I teach having limited or no literacy skills. When a task is set that requires ideas to be written down, it is fundamental that I assign a support worker to that student or group of students to ensure that their ideas or thoughts are recorded to ensure inclusivity within the learning environment.
As the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA) suggests key skills are the skills that are commonly needed for success in a range of activities in education and training, work and life in general. Basic or functional skills are practical skills in Literacy, Numeracy and Information and Communication Technology (I.C.T.). Embedding them into your specialist area of teaching will allow individuals to work confidently and independently in various situations whether in life or at work. 'Integrating literacy, language, numeracy and ICT into your sessions is part of your professional role as a teacher.' (Gravells, 2008 pg 49). Teaching adults with learning disabilities it is important to emphasise functional skills that are age appropriate and promote independence. Applying the functional skills to everyday life and within the community is also important.
Working with adults with learning disabilities and educating them about advocacy, it is essential that the student is shown how to communicate properly in order to advocate their own wants and needs. Because a person who has learning disabilities often becomes frustrated because they cannot portray what they want to say, their behaviour can sometimes become quite challenging. It is important that the teacher uses discussions with the students to encourage participation, but to also to encourage the student to be patient and wait for their turn to speak. Allowing the student time to speak as they cannot always get across the point they are trying to make is also imperative.
Group discussions like this will encourage students to speak up for themselves and be able to communicate well with their peers but also within the wider community. Alternative systems of communication may also be necessary, such as British Sign Language or Makaton to encourage the students to express their needs as well as their peers who can communicate verbally. Encouraging literacy skills can support the student to recognise basic signs that they may come across in everyday life. Such as toilet, bus stop, exit and danger. This will also promote autonomy.
To encourage a student to become as independent as possible it is vital that numeracy skills are encouraged. This will support students in their every day life such as basic budgeting and shopping for household items. Including money skills within your session is essential so students can recognise and have the ability to use small amounts of money. This will promote independence for the student. Using numeracy skills is also important to help students to understand and be aware of the time. This will support them to be on time for appointments, for public transport or on time for their day service.
Using ICT with students with disabilities can often be difficult as many have sensory or physical disabilities along side learning disabilities. Accessing the mouse and keyboard can often be an obstacle. It is often necessary to find alternative ways to interact with the computer. Using what is known as a tracker ball, which replaces the mouse for people with poor manual dexterity. Also a keyboard with larger keys can be helpful for students who have poor motor skills. A lot of students with learning disabilities do not have reading or writing skills so it may be necessary to use symbols or pictures on the computer so they can recognise and relate to them. For those students who are partially sighted or registered blind it is possible to voice activated computer programs. Using a multi-sensory approach to learning creates opportunities for students to have ICT skills without needing advanced levels of technical skill.
Gravells (2008) also implies that 'As a teacher, you can play an important part in providing opportunities to develop your learners' skills of literacy, numeracy and ICT. It is your responsibility to continually update your own skills…improving yourself will help improve your learners.'
Negotiating with learners was the final area in which research was carried out. This research was carried out individually. Discussing or negotiating with learners begins very early on in a students learning experience. It often starts with initial assessment. Initial or diagnostic assessment should take place before the student has even entered the classroom. It is a means of assessing a students ability and needs in a learning environment and can often identify the level of students functional skills. 'Diagnostic assessment is an evaluation of a learner's skills, knowledge, strengths and areas for development.' (Gravells, 2008 pg 75). Initial assessment gives students an opportunity to divulge any concerns they may have or disabilities that may inhibit them for learning. This will allow the tutor to arrange for any classroom support that the student may require. Lesley Thom, Training Standards Council (2001) advises that 'Assessment is not something that should be done to somebody. The learner must be involved and feel part of the process.' Consequently, we must ensure that we do not label a student following initial assessment.
When working with students with learning disabilities it is essential that we assess student's abilities and identify their learning needs very early on therefore we can place further support in the classroom. This will also allow the tutor to teach in a manner that meets the students learning styles.
In many learning institutions, students have an Individual Learning Plan or ILP. This plan identifies a students needs and also recognises the goals and inspirations of the learner and is drawn up by negotiation with the tutor. 'The purpose of an ILP is to help create a well planned 'tailor made' programme of activities for each student that meets their individual needs and aspirations.' (Petty 2004, pg 510). By actively involving students in the out come of their learning it gives the student ownership and a need to succeed. When setting certain targets, it gives the student a goal to work towards. However, as tutor we must ensure that the goals and targets are realistic and we do not set our students up to fail. We must also ensure that we continually assess our students progress and check that they are meeting specific targets. Therefore we can identify if a student needs further support in certain areas. 'Students with learning disabilities require considerably more structure in their lessons than many other students, monitoring students academic performance on a regular basis can assist in providing much of the structure. Such monitoring will enable the student...to see his or her performance in relation to previous efforts and to celebrate his or her growth toward the specific objectives...charting their performance is one of the most effective motivational tools teachers can employ.' (Bender, 2002 pg 139)
The points which were researched, by group work, individual research and through peer micro teach sessions are areas that tutors need to be aware of and are imperative to successful teaching. As a tutor we need to be tuned in to a variety of issues to ensure that we meet the needs of all learners
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Armitage, A et al (2002), Teaching and Training in Post-Compulsory Education, Open University Press.
Bender, W (2002), Differentiating Instruction for Students with Learning Disabilities, Corwin Press Ltd.
Gravells, A (2008), Planning and Enabling Learning, Learning Matters Ltd.
Gravells, A (2008), Preparing to Teach in the Lifelong Learning Sector 3rd Edition, Learning Matters Ltd.
Minton, D (1999), Teaching Skills in Further and Adult Education, The Macmillan Press Ltd.
Petty, G (2004), Teaching Today, A Practical Guide 3rd Edition, Nelson Thornes Ltd.
Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (2009), Available from <http://www.qca.org> [Accessed 16 April 2009].
Wikipedia (2009), Available from <http://www.wikipedia.org> [Accessed 16 April 2009].