Let’s think about training.

 

Sharing expertise  specialists and generalists can offer insights that benefit us all

Sharing expertise specialists and generalists can offer insights that benefit us all

 

I can always depend upon Savitha Ravi to post thoughtful responses on this blog. A few days ago I wrote a piece with the title Sharing the expertise (February 20th) in which I suggested that we need all teachers to establish skills, knowledge and understanding in order that they may feel confident in working in classrooms with a diverse range of needs. At present I argued, schools tend to be too dependent upon special educators who are quite rightly recognised for their expertise but can have only a limited impact in the way that schools are organised.

Savitha responded by expressing a concern that very few courses for training teachers in India have sufficient focus on special educational needs issues. She stated:-

“I’ve spoken to heads of training institutes to include such modules, may be if we can make this happen, it will definitely help more teachers feel confident and equipped to work with any child”.

I believe that Savitha is quite right in identifying training as a key factor in promoting teacher confidence and thereby supporting the development of inclusion. However, I suggest that we need to think carefully about what form such training may take.

There appears to be two current approaches to providing teachers with the skills and knowledge that will enable them to be effective in addressing a range of learning needs. The first aims to supply teachers with detailed knowledge of specific diagnosed needs such as dyslexia, autism spectrum disorders (ASD) or attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). The premise being that an understanding of the causes of the learning difficulties associated with children with these labels will make it easier to equip teachers with the means to plan to meet their needs. A second approach, and one that is certainly in vogue in the UK is to encourage teachers to develop skills of planning and differentiation in teaching and assessment in order that all learners can be accommodate in classrooms. The theory being that effective teaching can address the needs of all pupils.

Are these two approaches exclusive or can they both make a contribution to the way in which we promote inclusive education? My personal experience of teaching students on post-graduate courses in the UK and those undertaking the MA in Special and Inclusive Education programme in Bangalore* leads me to make a few observations.

Many of the teachers who attend these master’s degree courses are those who have already established a commitment to working with children who experience difficulties with learning. Some join the course with several years of experience and considerable expertise in addressing the needs of individuals with specific diagnoses. Others have become frustrated by the challenges they face day to day in their teaching and are seeking the means to gain confidence and competence in addressing these difficulties. On the MA programmes in which I am involved we tend to focus upon the principles of inclusive teaching, effective planning for diverse learning needs, differentiated instruction and the development of inclusive learning partnerships with families and other agencies. Teachers on the course respond well to this approach, but I wonder if to some extent they do so because of their previous study of specific “conditions”?

It would be ridiculous to deny that some of the expertise that these teachers have acquired does not support their commitment to working in inclusive learning environments. For example, I work with students who have undergone extensive training in teaching children on the autism spectrum and are well versed in the use of visual structure and the development of personalised learning environments. Similarly students who have completed courses on the use of multi-sensory teaching approaches with children labelled as dyslexic have acquired an understanding and commitment that has proven advantages in their teaching.

We know that many of the innovations that have emerged from special education, such as the use of augmentative systems of communication or the development and implementation of alternative modes of accreditation, can be used effectively in inclusive classrooms. So does this have an implication for the ways in which we train teachers?

I think it probably does. I also believe that the way we approach this training is important. Teachers need to be provided with the principles of developing inclusive classrooms and to have an understanding of how we plan to address the needs of whole classes of diverse learners. This surely will provide the foundations of good inclusive teaching. But I have learned from my students that at this point it may well be appropriate to examine some of those specific pedagogical approaches that have been developed for pupils with special educational needs, and to see how they may be utilised in inclusive classrooms. However, it is most important at this point to recommend that those approaches traditionally used with pupils with a specific diagnosis such as dyslexia, may also be applicable to other learners. I am not convinced that there is a particular approach for children with dyslexia or autism spectrum disorders that is only to be used with those who have such a diagnosis. But I am sure that the detailed attention that those teachers who have shown a commitment to these pupils has assisted in the development of effective teaching.

Savitha has given me food for thought (thank you Savitha). The secret now is to ensure that this leads to a balanced teaching diet. I have a feeling that there remains much to be debated on this issue. I am far from reaching a conclusion on these matters. It is likely that I will return to this topic very soon, but I still need help in clarifying my thoughts. What do you think?

A couple of readers of this blog recently contacted me through the University of Northampton to ask about the MA programme in Bangalore. We are now recruiting for a cohort to start in September 2014. Details can be obtained by contacting Jayashree Rajanahally jayamar@gmail.com If you do join I look forward to debating these issues with you face to face.

10 thoughts on “Let’s think about training.

  1. Hi Richard – An interesting aspect of this relates to texts used in teacher education. Most of the ones I see are built around a laundry list of various disabilities. For example “Teaching children with visual impairments” or “Teaching children with low-incidence disabilities”. The majority of these books treat kids with these disabilities in isolation and don’t look at the broader implications and benefits that come with changing teaching for all kids. I suspect some university courses are built around these texts, which I don’t think is really the best approach.

  2. Hi Tim,
    Good to have you back, I began to think I’d said something to offend you!
    I agree with you and think actually that there is another angle to this. We regularly field questions at the university from local teachers and schools about whether we can run a course on teaching autistic, dyslexic (substitute one of any number of labels) children.
    However, I do think that there are some complexities around this issue, such as parents who seek the assurance of a label, schools who know they will obtain extra resources and teachers who need to find legitimate reasons for understanding why some children challenge their teaching. This is a timel response. I have just been skim reading Julian Elliott’s latest book – “The Dyslexia Debate” and was thinking I’d post something about this over the coming days.
    It’s great to have your contributions to this blog. Several colleagues and students who don’t quite have the confidence to post on an open forum have spoken to me about your ideas. Thanks for contributing.

  3. Hi Richard – No, you didnt offend me. More that I was caught up with one thing or another. I have been avidly reading each post. As always very thought provoking. Keep up the good work and I encourage others to join the conversation. This seems a supportive audience! 🙂

  4. Thanks Tim. Only joking. I am amazed with your busy life that you have time to reply. With regards to debate it appears that maybe the audience is very compliant – a few counter arguments might prove interesting.

  5. Hey All, Greetings! I was tied up with the open house in our new premises for the Elementary Programme. It was very interesting to see parents of typically developing children so actively trying to understand how an inclusive programme would work in the higher grades. For the first time, I got a few parents who came to Pramiti who genuinely were interested in understanding inclusion. We had four teachers presenting materials and activities and since it was the first time, I gave the tour. For a topic like fractions,w e had four different ways of introducing it to children at different levels. What parents appreciated about our programme was that every adult was able to present the different levels of the activities in different ways. It is so important that every teacher in the school understands inclusion and even one who does not believe in it can cause turbulence in the otherwise smooth flight. I had been to the Indian Montessori Centre to witness a speech on inclusion. They proudly came and told me that they have included modules on inclusion. I was happy but to my dismay what we had here was a talk for a couple of hours on inclusion. I did not understand this. You have a year long training and all you have in that is a two to three hour talk on inclusion. Why can’t they have observation in schools that do include children in Montessori programmes. This year the adults I recruited had to come for observation for almost two months and understand what they are getting into. Can we all understand that inclusion does not mean having children with special needs in a classroom but it means attending to every child as according to me everyone of us is special with some special need or the other. People have often said that I am aggressive when it comes to the inclusive programme. Yes, I am aggressive and that is why we have reached at least to some level otherwise we would have still been wondering if we were equipped to handle a child with special needs. I wish more schools could be aggressive about inclusion and most training institutes can be aggressive about improving their training programmes and make it more inclusive. My aggressive nature wants me to one day have one complete teacher learning programme that would be a learning in totality and not just a training.

  6. Hi Savitha,
    I think the word passionate is probably better than aggressive. Having worked with you over a number of years I am very aware of your dedication but I don’t find you frightening!
    Great to hear that new developments in Primiti are moving forward. I think you need to keep leading by example. Where you go today others will follow. Once they see the impact of your work everyone will want to follow suit and this is as true of training as it is of school development. Keep up the good work and remain passionate about what you do.

  7. Savita,
    It is wonderful to read your observation that more parnets are interested about inclusive schools. I totally agree that our teacher traning programs need to become teacher learning programs that empower teachers to ensure that every child learns, irrespective of percived difficulties, disabilities, gifts, talents or averageness (for want of a better word!). And empower teachers to examine their values and practices and learn from every child and adult they meet. Congratulations on venturing into older ages and classes!

  8. Hey Bharati, please give me a missed call if you have my number, I lost your number when I yet again lost my phone. You have always encouraged me and we have had many great interactions and exchanges. Looking forward to those more often.

  9. Richard, thank you for being my angel as always. I am glad you find me passionate and not aggressive and scary. Lots to share and discuss with you, will keep writing…..

  10. Thanks Savitha. I wonder how we might encourage others to join the debate? It often feels a bit like a discussion amongst the “converted”

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