I have more than twenty years’ classroom experience and much of that is teaching young learners in the afternoons. Teaching children in the afternoon is a very different experience to teaching them during the school day. One of the reasons for this is that they have been at school already for most of the day!
As a teacher, I often struggled with classroom management and engagement. Because, when it came down to it, my learners were children who had spent the best part of six hours sitting at a desk. They’d already had to learn so much during those six hours, that there wasn’t much space left for additional learning. The children came to my class tired after a long day at school or sleepy after lunch. Sometimes they came after football practice and were hot, sweaty and thirsty. At times they lacked energy and at others their energy seemed endless, but they were restless, unable to concentrate on an activity for more than a few minutes at a time. But these were, for the most part, neurotypical children who were generally making good academic progress at school.
Then there were those children who had more serious issues, either with progress or with behaviour. A child whose written level was way below their ability to communicate orally. A child who was unable to sit down for more than twenty seconds (I am not exaggerating). A child who took three times as long as the others to complete an exercise in their Activity book or had trouble even copying a sentence from the board.
What did I do to help these children? Did I adapt my teaching methods and try to find ways to make the learning experience work for them?
I tried, sometimes. But I didn’t try hard enough. I wasn’t really aware that these children might have had a learning difference. I certainly wasn’t informed of any diagnosis. There were times when I suspected that a child might be dyslexic, but it was always difficult to broach the subject with parents and caregivers. After all, surely their school teacher who spent six hours with the child every day would have realised if there had been a problem?
I know I am not the only teacher with this experience. And I also know there are lots of children out there whose learning differences go undiagnosed because the diagnosis process is often long and expensive. But we can’t just let these children continue in our classes feeling unsupported and left behind.
In a workshop I did last year, where I asked participants to share their wishes for primary English teaching, one person said the following:
provision for ADHD and dyslexic learners in all primary classrooms and training for EFL teachers on learning differences
In primary teaching courses, I believe this is being covered to some extent. But it is not, as far as I know, included in initial TEFL teaching training courses. Yet these learning differences occur in up to 10% of the population, making it highly likely that one learner in each class will have issues of some kind. And yet many of us have no training, beyond perhaps choosing to attend a workshop on dyslexia at a conference.
I decided that it was about time I learned more and last year I signed up for an online course: Understanding Neurodiversity run by Anne Margaret Smith at Inclusive language teaching – ELT well. Then, I started to think about our teaching methods and approaches and whether they were suitable for all learners.
The course above does a great job of giving teachers an overview of each learning difference and strategies for teaching neurodiverse learners and I highly recommend it. But I wanted to take it further. So I started working on what is now my Inclusive Pedagogies Framework for English Language Teaching. My online course, Inclusive Approaches for Primary Teachers examines this framework and explores what we need to consider if we want to create a truly inclusive learning experience for our primary learners. We’ll consider the pillars of an inclusive classroom, the values and principles we want to maintain. We’ll explore different pedagogical approaches that take learner-centredness as their main pillar. And we’ll think about the steps we can take in our own classrooms.
You can read more and sign up for the course on the Courses page. The next course will begin in January 2023.
I want to end on a high note. And that is the sheer number of teachers who I’ve seen sharing posts and expressing an interest in inclusion and further training in this area. Inclusion is a big topic now, and I’m so pleased about that! Learning differences and neurodiversity have been buried underground for so long, and it’s about time they broke through the surface and were allowed to be visible in the ELT community.