#Curriculum, #Teaching&Learning, Disability

Scaffolding support in primary PE curriculum for SEND pupils into adulthood

Interview with Jonathan Bhowmick (JB)

With a renewed focus on curriculum this year, Anita Devi (AD) caught up with Actions Mats to ask more about how we support pupils with special educational needs and disability (SEND) in Physical Education (PE), as part of the inclusion agenda and active lifestyles.

AD: Hi Jonathan, thank you for your time today.  Tell us a little about yourself.

JB: Hi Anita Well, I am the designer and founder of Action Mats. My background is playground design and working with a school, I was asked by the headteacher to design a solution for engaging pupils for whom English is an additional language (EAL).  Hence Action Mats were born.  The mats are a unique PE and active-learning resource created for children between 4 and 11 years old.  The thinking behind Action Mats is to create fitness stations.  These can used in multiple configurations.  They enable ALL pupils to engage in the PE curriculum as well as participate in team building challenges and competitive games. What we have also discovered since from user feedback is Action Mats work well for pupils with a special educational need and disability.  In effect, we have fulfilled our AIM in creating Action Inclusive Mats.

AD: How long have you been operating?

JB: Action Mats was launched in October 2017 and we are now in over one hundred schools in four countries. They were originally created for EAL pupils.  Our vision is for them engage in the lessons and so feel part of the school community.  The unique feature of Action Mats is the simple, yet fun, instructional graphics and symbols printed on each mat. Children of all ages, from any country, can understand these graphics without the need for explanation or translation. This empowers children, giving them the ability to work independently or collaboratively, without the need for teacher/ adult input.  Action Mats are active members of Youth Sports Trust, the Association for Physical Education and UK Active.

Action Mats 1

AD: Did you test the mats with the children?

JB: We tested the Action Mats quite extensively.  In late September 2019, we ran a new trial session at a primary school in Hertfordshire to test our active-learning mats, which incorporate the literacy and numeracy packs.  Thirty-two children in year 4 (8-year olds) tested our level 2 challenge jigsaw race mats.  Each challenge includes sixteen activities.  The activity was delivered as a race.  So, the pupils carry random pieces jigsaw pieces over a course of fitness stations to reach the ‘build zone’. In the Build-Zone, pupils must connect the piece they carry to existing pieces already there. The class was a mixed ability group.

AD: Sounds like quite a high-pace activity?

JB:  It is.  However, from a designer’s point of view, the successful completion of the jigsaw is rather secondary. The objective is for pupils to engage fully in the exercises on each mat. We want our children to be active and see sport, as an important lifestyle choice. A secondary objective is for the whole team to coalesce in the jigsaw build zone to assemble the pieces as a team, collectively. The game fosters teamwork on two levels, during the race section and working together to achieve a common goal.  Ideally before the other team.

AD:  What did you learn from this new trial?

JB:  I was really pleased with how successful the game was. The rationale behind the idea worked perfectly and, as the photos testify, the children were completely engrossed in the challenge.  In particular, the children shared they preferred the numeracy tasks linked to Action Mats and found it helped their concentration.  School leadership commented, “We found the sense of purpose linked to PE activities helpful or children’s learning and we believe teachers could use this accessible resource in many different ways, to engage the children”. As a follow-up, Action Mats was invited to run an active session at a PE Conference in Worcestershire at which we invited twenty PE Teachers to participate in the same game.  There was some initial reluctance, but once the teachers got into it, they found it more challenging than they had originally thought.  Their competitive side also surfaced.  We found their feedback useful.

Winning is important to me, but what brings me real joy is the experience of being fully engaged in whatever I’m doing – Phil Jackson

Action Mats 2

AD: The jigsaw appears to also help the slow down rest period, after an intense period of activity.  Is that how they were designed?  What is the recommended warm up to the fitness stations?

JB: In this scenario, the objective was to race the other team.  However, it is possible to use the jigsaw for downtime.  The Action Mat stations are used for the warm-up through a circuit-based activity.

AD: Can you give us an example where the mats have benefited children with special educational needs and disability (SEND)?

JB: Action Mats are be used by some special schools and we have anecdotal feedback about impact for SEND in mainstream schools. This is an are we are currently developing.

Sports England 2018

(Source: Sport England, 2018)

AD: London 2012, enabled us as a nation to take sport to a new level. Our pledge was to “Inspire a generation”. Yet, in 2018 Sport England reported just over 40% of children in England do an average of more than 60 minutes of physical activity a day. Our Active Lives Children and Young People Survey (2018), which was the first of its kind carried out by Ipsos MORI, showed that around 3 million children (43.3%) lead active lives.  However, of that group, only 1.2 million (17.5%) are meeting the Chief Medical Officer’s guidelines of more than 60 minutes of activity a day, every day of the week.  So, there is clearly a need to do more. The report also concluded an insignificant difference in the amount of sport and physical activity that takes place inside school, compared to activity levels outside of school.  Both have a critical role to play. With 22% of children active for at least 30 minutes per day outside of school, while 28% of children do so in school.  How do you think Action Mats can contribute to the national agenda for children of ‘being active and staying healthy’?

Life need not have limits – Richard Whitehead, a British athlete and Paralympian

JB: Action Mats can be delivered through structured teacher-led pedagogy.  The mats come with easy-to-follow activity cards.  Action Mats can also have high impact through learner-led activities.  So, the mats cover both differentiation and personalisation.  In some schools, Action Mats have promoted Family Fitness Sessions, where parents/carers join their children for stay healthy exercise sessions.  This helps promote good family relationships and positive role models, as well active lifestyles outside school.  Action Mats are portal and on suitable external surfaces can be used outside, in the fresh air.

Sports England 2017

(Source: Sports England, 2017)

AD: At #TeamADL, our vision is ‘Everyone thriving in education, employment and life’.  We were therefore concerned when we read in the 2015/16 survey 51% of adults with three or more impairments are inactive compared with 21% of those without a disability. So, my final question to you, what can we do differently to increase activity for those with impairments?

JB: Take the principles of Action Mats and apply them widely.  In other words, simplicity, accessibility and inclusivity.  Richard Whitehead, a British athlete and Paralympian once said, “Life need not have limits”.  This is so true of the philosophy of Action Mats.  The mats are enablers for children to stretch themselves that little bit further, with the hope it becomes a lifestyle choice for their adulthood.  Do check out our video and hear what teachers and PE specialists have said.

AD: Thank you Jonathan once again for your time.  We wish you the very best going forward.  Keep us posted of any updates!

To find out more about Action Mats visit: https://www.actionmats.co.uk/

Chrispina Wilson from #TeamADL is also actively involved in supporting healthy lifestyles and reducing obesity for all children and young people. Contact us to find out more.

#Teaching&Learning, Early Career Framework, Learning, Purpose

New, newness and learning

by Anita Devi

This month, instead a text-based blog, we’ve put together an 8 minute podcastThis is ‘new’ for us … we hope you enjoy!

Same old thinking.jpg

Break the cycle … and do something NEW today, this term, this year!

Comfort zone

About Anita Devi

Anita has had an extensive career in education.  Her why is based around the ‘joy of learning’.  As such, she focuses on what enables learners and what hinders them and more importantly, what can she do to improve the system.  Amongst many other roles, Anita leads #TeamADL

To find out more visit www.AnitaDevi.com

#Curriculum, #Teaching&Learning, Early Career Framework, Parenting, SEND

Meeting Jonathan!

By Anita Devi

Last month, I had the absolute privilege of meeting Jonathan Bryan !!! I’d been following Jonathan’s story for awhile on Twitter @eyecantalk and in the press.  I’d read his book, which I highly recommend, so I wanted to meet him and his mum, Chantal.  I had so many questions.

This blog is my attempt at summarising an incredible three hours spent with Jonathan, at his home.

Dual Multiple Exceptionality (DME)

My interest in children and young people, who had special educational needs and were more able started around 2007.  Working with different agencies including the National Association of Gifted Children (now Potential Plus), I was keen to find out how we identify and encourage the ‘ability’ in ‘disability.  I researched case studies from America (where DME is referred to as Twice Exceptional or 2E), I delivered a few presentations/ workshops and more importantly, I incorporated it into my practice as a SEN Advisory Teacher, undertaking statutory assessment. Around the same time, The National Strategies also launched their thinking around DME.  The discussion was beginning to develop momentum. We were starting to distinguish between identification and support strategies for those born with a disability, who had DME and those who had acquired a disability, after the more able aspect of their talent had been discovered e.g. Professor Stephen Hawking or Jean-Dominique Bauby (Diving Bell and the Butterfly).  Three years on and post-election, the signs in Whitehall had changed, as had the government agenda for education.  DME was put on the back burner.

Despite this setback, I continued to research the subject.  My interest homed in particularly on assessment, especially since ‘Life without Levels’ and the Engagement Profile / Scale research by Barry Carpenter and his team, was a great opportunity to further this discussion in special schools with head teachers.

Almost 10 years after I first started looking into DME, Pearson published a two-part blog by me on the subject.  The article was entitled, “What can’t my child excel and have a difficulty / disability at the same time?” Part 1 | Part 2.  Eighteen months later, nasen published their Current State of Play Report on DME.  Professor Stephen Hawking became a Patron of nasen, however as mentioned earlier, his was an acquired disability.  There is still much to discover about children born with a disability, who are cognitively able, but not always endowed with the ability to express it.

I do not want to give away too much about Jonathan’s story, as I really would encourage you to read his book.  Through ‘Eye Can Write‘, I met Chantal his mother, understood the circumstances leading up to his birth and the many difficulties they faced after he was born, including times when the hospital gave Jonathan hours to live.

Eyes Can Write

Jonathan is now 13 years old.  He has no voluntary control over his body or speech, and he is on an oxygen tank.  He has two younger sisters and a very busy schedule.  Jonathan was attending a school for children with Profound and Multiple Learning Difficulties (PMLD), when one of his teachers noticed active cognitive processing, behind his disability.  Long story short, Jonathan moved into mainstream, learnt to read, communicate in his own way and thrived.

Here is a reverse poem, he wrote recently for Poetry Day (21st March 2019).  Using the structure of an existing poem, Jonathan created his own, giving a voice to his thoughts and ideas.

Poem v2

So, what happened when I met Jonathan?

My first question was to Chantal.  Given all that has happened and the challenges, how is it you remain so calm?   Smilingly Chantal replied,

There are days, when the oxygen masks haven’t arrived or something else isn’t in place … and it can be overwhelming.  But I have a choice and I intentionally choose not to be angry.  It isn’t always easy, but the anger doesn’t solve anything.  If anything, it creates more problems.

Chantal, his home-teacher (Sarah) and I continued talking about many things … at which point Jonathan interrupted us.  Using his eyes, he spelt out the following message to me,

I just want an education system where we are all considered worthy to be taught and learn.  How can I make a difference, Anita?

Yes, he knew my name!  Part of my curiosity about Jonathan also stemmed from his phenomenal working memory.  Imagine using your eyes to point to a letter in a word, a word in a sentence, a sentence in a paragraph and a paragraph in a context/ chapter.  That’s what Jonathan had just done!

Reflecting on the discussion, I realised, we had been talking about provision in special schools and sensorial experiences.  Whilst these are necessary and helpful, Jonathan was trying to communicate to me … there is SO much more to us that just ‘experiencing’ a sensory stimulation or curriculum.

So, let me share some more golden nuggets, Jonathan spelt out to me, with his eyes:

I would love that if people see what is possible, maybe they will want to try and unlock others.

My story is not unique, and it should be shared.  I don’t have long here, so what should I spend my time doing?  I am a thirteen-year-old … and I’m always hungry!

I dream of every teacher finding ways to teach every child.

… and finally,

  • Trainee teachers need the why
  • Teachers need the how
  • Parents need the what
  • Leaders need to believe

What an incredible blueprint for teacher – leader development and the Early Career Framework.  I have no idea how the time passed … we covered so much.  But it was noon and Jonathan had to get ready for school.  As I drove away from their home … I was in awe.  This young thirteen-year-old had taught me SO much!  He had understood what we had discussed and responded in a way, that stretched our perceptions to a new level of thinking and believing.  What an absolute privilege! I was inspired and humbled.

JR Photo Medley v2

Jonathan and his family have set up a charity to focus exactly on what we spoke about, unlocking potential.  The charity is called ‘Teach us too’ and the remit is simply ‘to change the experiences of others in a similar position’.  There are some great plans for the charity to develop over the next year and #TeamADL very much look forward to walking alongside Jonathan and the charity in advocating the message “Teach us Too”.

Call to action:

Think about the children and young people you teach:

  • Are there any who have a special educational need and/or disability AND are more able?
  • What further research do you need to undertake about DME?
  • Does you setting have a policy and more importantly provision in place to ‘unlock’ and support DME?

 

About Anita Devi

Anita has had an extensive career in education.  Her why is based around the ‘joy of learning’.  As such, she focuses on what enables learners and what hinders them and more importantly, what can she do to improve the system.  Amongst many other roles, Anita leads #TeamADL

To find out more visit www.AnitaDevi.com

#Curriculum, #Teaching&Learning

Curriculum under the magnifying glass

By Jeremy (Jez) Bennett

What knowledge, skills, attitudes and values will your pupils develop in order to share and thrive in their world in 2030?

(The Future We Want, OECD)

This is a crucial question for all school leaders, and its answer will shape our curriculum decisions.  Is our current system fit for purpose?  Are current curriculum and assessment structures effective in meeting the needs of our children?

The school curriculum and the National Curriculum are different.  The National Curriculum is compulsory for maintained schools but not for academies.  It is detailed for some subjects, and cursory in others and in both cases should only form part of the full school curriculum.  Leaders have the opportunity to design their school curriculum around their priorities and in response to their local context.

Ofsted’s recent draft Education Inspection Framework (EIF) places the curriculum under the microscope, and provides an opportunity for schools to conduct a curriculum review.  Schools must consider how their ethos and philosophy drive the curriculum (the intent), how well this curriculum intent is designed and shared across the school (the implementation), and the evidence that the implementation is effective (the impact).

Many of our curriculum decisions are driven by high-stakes accountability, which has increasingly become through examinations.  Everyone has an opinion about exams.  We have all experienced them, and often feel strongly about them, either positively or negatively.

“Scrap ‘pointless’ GCSEs” (Robert Halfon MP, BBC website, 11/02/19)

“Overhaul ‘narrow’ A levels” (Prof Sir Venki Ramakrishnan, BBC website, 12/02/19)

Exams are the culmination of a programme of learning, and are only one way of assessing this learning.  Why are exams so prevalent?  Possibly because they are relatively simple to administer, efficient and reliable in a low-trust system.

There are alternatives.  Coursework, formative assessment, skills matrices, national reference tests – these could all be used collaboratively to build the picture of a system’s performance.

We know that, in any system, “What gets measured gets done.”  So what do we want to measure?  Organisations like the National Baccalaureate Trust have been working to develop frameworks to recognise and reward the spectrum of students’ achievements and development, whatever their background or starting point.  Does such a framework led itself to greater social mobility? In reality, such a framework probably needs to start from where we are, using GCSEs and the rest of our current suite of qualifications.  However, there is then scope to add in additional elements for the gaps or consider alternatives with equity.

In my opinion, there are reasons to be cautions about the draft EIF. For example, it states one of the factors that research and evidence indicates makes for effective education is that “the curriculum remains as broad as possible for as long as possible“. The English exam system leads to curriculum narrowing sooner than most countries. So a tension exists between what we aspire to and what we are doing.  This raises some interesting questions:

  • Is a child’s experience at KS2 particularly balanced?
  • Moving forward will the majority of schools revert to a 3-year KS3?
  • What does a broad curriculum at KS4 look like in your context?
  • Should schools encourage breadth at KS5, as happens in many other systems internationally? We could call it a Baccalaureate !?

The future is bright, the future is #curriculum

I am confident that school leaders in the system will balance the nuances of the EIF with the principles of their curriculum intent.  Having reviewed the curriculum in several schools, I have noticed that most school leaders understand these tensions well, and are fully supportive of holistic curricula.  Areas for development I have raised have included, for example:

  • How well leaders and teachers understand and build on prior learning at the start of a key stage, particularly following a change of school.
  • How effectively learning is planned through a key stage to embed and consolidate knowledge and skills.
  • The extent to which the curriculum intent and language for learning is disseminated and shared across the organisation.

This is an opportunity for school leaders to become creative curriculum designers.  If we are bold, perhaps by 2030 we will have schools confidently tailoring their curriculum to their local context, with carefully designed programmes of learning ensuring strong progression with assessment informing the process rather than driving it.  This would, no doubt help to ensure children develop the attitudes, skills, knowledge and values they need in order to share and thrive in their world in 2030!

This remains an on-going discussion and I welcome your views …

About Jez Bennett

As a member of #TeamADL, Jez focuses on #Curriculum review and development using theory of change models such as ‘Appreciative Inquiry’.  As a music specialist, Jez contributes to curriculum development in this area for trainees and he utilises his leadership and headteacher experience to coach other leaders. To find out more visit: www.AnitaDevi.com

 

#Teaching&Learning

Why Cuisenaire® Rods are my Number-One ‘Go-to’ Resource

By Zena Martin

“The use of words for expression does not necessarily imply their useful communication… Because of this we can safely say that in verbal relationships ‘communication is almost a miracle.’”  – Dr Caleb Gattegno

In recent years, there has been a resurgence in the use of concrete apparatus and manipulatives in primary mathematics teaching and learning. We have the pedagogy of the Far East to thank for this. Yet for many specialist teachers, the use of manipulatives has been part of their everyday repertoire of teaching strategies for the most struggling learners of maths for decades.

For me, and many others, there is one manipulative that rises ‘head and shoulders’ above all others. This is the mathematical rod, originally invented by Georges Cuisenaire. Cuisenaire® rods have been in existence since the 1930s and are the number one go-to resource for many specialist teachers who recognise the uniqueness and visual power of these materials.

However, there are still many teachers who do not yet feel confident in the use of this resource and will often reach for other manipulatives that appear to give a quicker short-term gain of a correct answer for children. Understanding the long-term learning benefits of Cuisenaire® is a vital lesson for every teacher of mathematics, whether new or experienced.

I concur with the view that many children with apparent learning difficulties are actually learning differences. What children with learning differences often find challenging in the mainstream classroom is the significant amount of language and verbal instruction that is employed. They require far more visual and practical input and experiences than are often provided. This statement could be echoed for most children in primary classrooms; it could be argued that they are just better equipped to cope with the absence of such visual stimulus. Here begin the seeds of quality first teaching!

Why rods?

Cuisenaire® rods allow children to see and internalise the relative sizes of numbers; to feel in their hands how six differs from seven, and from 10, and so on. They can see the difference of one white rod between each of the other rods. They internalise that all the blue ones are of the same length, or that it always takes two yellow ones to make an orange one.

Rods

Cuisenaire® rods have no numerical indicators. Though sometimes criticised or rejected for this (or even compensated for, with teachers and resource publishers adding markings or pictures to aid counting), the lack of numerical indicators is an essential feature for many children who struggle with number. I am sure you will have encountered children who reach the upper end of Key Stage 2, still insecure with number bonds to 10 and feeling compelled to count everything, still dependent on fingers and number lines for basic number bonds. These children have internalised that their only reliable method of calculating is to count – nothing else works for them because they struggle to ‘see’ magnitude. Of course, we know that counting has its limitations.

You can’t count rods – you have to become so familiar with them that you begin to see and internalise the ‘seven-ness of seven’ and understand its relationship to 8 and to 6, and later to 70, and so on. It moves children away from the ‘comfort blanket’ of counting and into a more secure internalisation of the magnitude of numbers and the structure of our number system. This cannot be achieved with any other manipulative that I know of as they all contain markings and numerical indicators that invite children back to their status quo of counting[1]. They provide an understanding of the magnitude of number, a fundamental concept that eludes many struggling learners. We can immediately see how small ‘red two’ is compared to ‘orange 10’. We can create ‘staircases’ with our rods, going beyond 10 up to 20, or even to 50. This requires a lot of orange rods but is a worthy exercise in demonstrating to children not only the magnitude of number, but also an introduction to place value. Long before children encounter the traditional ‘tens and units’ grid, they need to explore what these numbers ‘look like’. For example, recognising that the number 26 is made up of two ‘orange 10’ rods and one ‘dark green six’ rod is the beginnings of an understanding of place value.

Another wonderful thing about rods is their versatility and ability to become a familiar ‘first port of call’ for most new mathematical concepts all the way to the end of the Key Stage 2 curriculum. The possibilities are endless! Commutative laws, fractions, decimals, percentages, ratios, time, equivalences, bases, and so on. There are few concepts that cannot be taught at least initially through Cuisenaire® rods. For children who are fully familiar with these rods, they give access to mathematical concepts that many might’ve thought not possible. It is a resource that can ‘open doors’ to maths for children who otherwise would struggle to access its abstract nature. Just for starters, imagine if the ‘orange 10’ rod no longer represented 10. What if it represented 100? What would the others become? What if it represented a million? What do the others become? What if it represented one? What would the others become? What if the dark green one represented one? What would the others become? I can think of no other manipulative that I can effectively do this with.

Ultimately, these mathematical rods, whether used by Reception children in continuous provision or by a child in Year 5 to close gaps in learning and access the curriculum more effectively, are teaching children algebra long before arithmetic. They are ultimately discovering that a brown rod and a red rod together are the same length as an orange rod – that’s algebra!

Familiarisation

I am often met with the response from teachers (and occasionally specialists) that they don’t use these rods because the child or children don’t know the number that each one represents. Consequently, they will continue to encourage children to use counting manipulatives (often cubes or counters) to help them complete their work. Whilst this gives a short-term gain in producing a page of sums that stand a fighting chance of being correct, it does nothing to develop the child’s long-term understanding and internalisation of the number system.

What is overlooked here is the need for children to develop full familiarisation with these rods before their potential as a learning tool can be fully realised. This requires huge amounts of structured play involving making pictures, building structures, talking about the rods with an adult or peer, exploring their representation on squared paper, colouring them in, and so on. Sometimes, we follow this with multi-sensory flashcards that the children make so that they can reach a point where they can confidently pick up any rod and say its colour and number. Knowledge of colour plus knowledge of number equals full familiarisation. Once this has been achieved, a world of mathematical concepts can be opened up to children with Cuisenaire’s® ability to represent the number system so visually, to strengthen number sense and to be used with such versatility.

Time to dig them out of the cupboard

In the UK, these rods were used by the teaching profession throughout the 1960’s and 1970’s, particularly in primary schools. Many adults who were at primary school then remember these resources fondly and describe how they learnt and consolidated their knowledge of numbers bonds through these delightful coloured rods.

After that, these valuable resources seemed to fall out of favour, and I have heard many sad tales of boxes of Cuisenaire® rods being thrown in skips during ‘clear outs’ or moves to new premises. Many teachers at that time were unaware of what these resources were, let alone what to do with them.

But now they’re making a comeback! If you know you have these wonderful little tools in your school, that give visual access to the world of number to so many children who otherwise find the number system a mystery, then dig them out, dust them down, and explore their learning potential!

About Zena Martin[2]

As a member of #TeamADL, Zena specialises in developing teachers and leaders in the North to be more inclusive for ALL learners.  Zena facilities several SENCO Networks and is a SENCO Coach.

To find out more or book Zena’s services visit www.AnitaDevi.com

[1] Please note that I do not advocate children being ‘forced’ to stop using fingers or other counting aids. They will stop using them when they are confident that another system has replaced the need to rely on them.
[2]Please note that I have no pecuniary interest to declare in sales of Cuisenaire® rods or any other manufacturer.