Some Ideas about Teaching



Teaching Special Needs - A Short Foreword


I think the approach you take will depend on two things:
1. The specific problems of the pupils.
2. What you are trying to do with your lesson.

The Pupil's Problems
I assume - because you say that you teach in a school for severe dyslexics - that we are talking about well-read and up-to-date teachers here, and that was why I hesitated to speak out: I feared I may reveal the shallowness of my knowledge. (By the way, if anything I say is wrong I apologise profusely; please correct me so that I may not be misinforming readers.)
What 'take' on dyslexia does the school espouse? Is it one of those institutions which still believes that all dyslexia is phonological, and that the way to address 'it' is by ploughing through endless phonetic tasks? Has it adopted the current 'visual dyslexia' stance of Stein? Perhaps my learning is going out of date now, but I tend to think of 'dyslexia' as an outcome (rather than the problem itself) of a NUMBER of different neurological problems, of which I would suggest the key are:
- phonological deficit
- visual deficit (dyseidetic)
- deficit in short-term working memory
Seeing as your school is specialist, I assume you have the test information which allows you to know what the pupils' specific problems are.
So surely you should devise the tasks in your lesson with the pupils' individual and specific needs in the forefront of your mind?

What you are trying to do with your lesson.
Once you know the pupils' individual needs, then what you do in your lesson will be dictated by what you are trying to do with the pupils.
History is a great subject in that it can be used in ANY way.
If your pupil has a phonological deficit, you may wish to address this directly in the way you work with the written texts.
If your pupil has a visual deficit, you may wish to introduce targeted visual sources.
If your pupil has a working memory deficit (and I think this is arguably the defining characteristic of dyslexic pupils) then you may well decide to work as your Headteacher recommends, in short gobbets, writing down the essential knowledge/ideas at regular intervals, so that they are there to consult later in the lesson/course (when they may well have been forgotten).

Alternatively - if what you want to do is to teach the HISTORY, rather than address the dyslexia, then you may well want to use kinaesthetic learning techniques (as you outline) with both phonologically-deficient and dyseidetic learners, because this offers an alternative 'learning route' through the brain for them to acquire the concepts.

I think the key thing is to sort out the 'learning objectives' for your pupils and in your lessons with the pupils.
Once you have agreed those with your Headteacher, then you can proceed to plan your lessons to deliver those objectives, taking into account the individual and group deficits of the class. This will reduce the argument from 'how should I teach' (in a global sense) to 'what is the best technique to achieve this specific objective with this specific pupil', and I think your conversations will be much more focussed and profitable.

(I have a vested interest in advising younger teachers to allow that us oldies - though of course dull, dry and dated - have a wealth of tricks up our sleeve that may be worth cadging before we do the world a favour by retiring!)

Posted on: Apr 20 2005, 10:52 PM





To cite this page, use:   CLARE, JOHN D. (2005/2006), 'Teaching Special Needs...',  at Greenfield History Site (