Building communities to deliver differentiated learning to students with special needs
November 22, 2018
Al Amal School for the Deaf and Hearing-Impaired in Al-Sayeda Nafisa was founded in 2000, and joined the Teachers First programme in February 2017. The primary school based in Cairo wanted to provide differentiated learning to suit the individual needs of their students.
In recent years, increasing attention has been given to caring for students with special educational needs, providing them with an education that enables them to develop their capabilities, become active members of the community, and raise their self-esteem. However, teachers have found it difficult to cater for the diverse and specific needs of each individual student. Clearly, a ‘one size fits all’ approach would be neither effective nor appropriate based on individual needs.
To meet the needs of the student teachers needed to be able to use more communication-based strategies and activities and change their practice and develop a more stimulating environment.
The school joined the Teachers First programme to provide the impetus for developing new approaches to diversify students’ learning. They started with just three teachers but grew this Community of Practice (CoP) to eighteen. Initiatives included –
- the Principal reducing administrative burdens to enable the CoP to meet once per week
- the CoP worked on highlighting and clarifying the benefits that would arise, which encouraged more reticent teachers to join
- motivating teachers and students by honouring them or presenting their work
- supporting and assisting those teachers with poor IT skills, helping them to register on the website and participate in the courses.
- using Lengo to record and credit their behavioural change, which was motivational and drove the collaboration and growth of the CoP.
Teachers immediately began to apply strategies and specifically sought to develop approaches that would enable them to differentiate their teaching. For example, they focussed on how to account for different learning styles, and began to develop personal learning plans (PLPs) for students, which enabled them to tailor learning and build upon students’ specific capabilities and prior knowledge.
“Teachers First was a turning point for us. It introduced new ideas and strategies that helped us change our behaviour within the classroom. This was reflected by the level of students’ work. Increased interaction and communication between teachers and deaf and hearing-impaired students resulted in increased achievement.”
Sayeda Karam Saleh, Social Studies teacher
They used a range of resources and Teachers First strategies to enliven and diversify learning, make it more interactive and student centred, including: ‘Curriculum Theatre’, ‘Hot Seat’, ‘Value Line’, ‘Agree/Disagree’, ‘Circle in a Circle’, ‘A Question Inside a Balloon’, ‘Four Corners’, ‘Spider Web’, ‘Traffic Light’, and ‘Thumb Signs’, to name but a few.
Teachers began to reconsider the learning environment, and where learning takes place, utilising spaces such as the school yard for delivering active learning experiences. They also took significant steps to celebrate and display students’ work around the school, which had a positive effect on the school environment. They also took advantage of the Teachers First website, learning from, uploading and sharing resources with other CoPs online.
There has been a significant increase in enthusiasm amongst teachers, with a number receiving certificates of achievement. The training has supported the development of more reflective teaching staff capable of critically reviewing the effectiveness of their teaching and its impact on learners’ progress, attainment and well-being. Teachers are happier and more positive about their professional practice, and have also benefitted from knowledge sharing experiences with other schools.
The increased ability to differentiate learning for individual students and create PLPs has been invaluable in developing more suitable, engaging and interactive learning and teaching experiences. Perhaps more importantly, they have witnessed a change in students’ behaviour, with an increase in their motivation to learn and participate in the learning process. Moreover, they have begun to see increased levels of achievement and notable improvements in regular pupil attendance. Teachers feel that this not only improves their education, but in turn, helps them to feel equal with their non-disabled peers, as well as assisting them with societal integration and greater chances of employment in the future.
Parents have also noticed the effect on students, stating their children are both happier and excited to discuss the activities and their experiences.
Links and Resources
The development of the approach and strategies used in the classroom
Children learning about the solar system
Students learning through play
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