Scripture speaks of each member of the body of Christ being given a gifting or contribution to make to the life of the Church community. Some will be given prominent roles and others seemingly insignificant ones; but each is important and without any one the life of the Church would not function as it should. We have in our classes children that are gifted, or will take up giftings, that will differ in character and scope. As children have different types of gifting they will have different styles of learning. We will not be able to teach the class as if they were all the same, nor can we ignore those with least gifting, as each has their special role. In Mannafields we aim to:
- value each pupil’s gifting and role in the school
- support teaching so that each child has work presented to them in a way that is intelligible and stretching
- encourage appropriate excellence from each pupil
- enable each pupil to feel that they are a success
Most of our learning support is drawn from volunteers and parents. This means a wide range of training, abilities and time available. Given the wide range of roles that such people will take within the school the general term of helper will be used within this document. In order for there to be a coherent pattern of learning support there needs to be clear policy and co-ordination.
The head teacher should take an overview of the learning support needs within the school and give direction the overall pattern of who gives what sort of help with each class. While the details of what is done within each class will be a matter between the class teacher and the helper the head teacher should be informed of changes in the times and day on which help is given and in the type of help given. This will not only enable co-ordination of learning support but also give the head teacher information about who will be affected by any variations in the school routine. The class teacher will be the person who has a clear picture of the overall needs of the pupils in their class. The learning support helper should therefore be directed by the class teacher in what the learning support priorities are within the class. A helper may see learning support needs that they have ideas about these. While these ideas may be helpful to the class teacher they may or may not be priorities within the whole range of needs and activities in the class. This need for co-ordination and feedback must be recognised. Helpers and teachers must find times when they can plan activities and give feedback. Helpers may need to make plans for extra time to be available for this. While planning of activities and giving feedback is important the teacher has many other important tasks and the teacher should not allow consultation with helpers to take up more time than it warrants. For effective planning to take place the teacher must be clear when helpers are available. Helpers should see their role as a commitment. It may sometimes be better to offer less time that can be committed regularly than a larger amount of time that is sporadic. Teachers should plan helpers into the class work and give helpers a clear role within the class. Helpers should be given information about what pupils will be working on and given adequate time to prepare if this is needed. If teacher and helper are both going to have input in lessons, it may often be of value if these were planned together.
The Class Teacher
The class teacher is the first line learning support teacher. There is much that can be done within the class to assist those with learning support needs beside bringing in helpers. This can be by:
- giving differentiated work
- support through group collaborative learning
- extra time for tasks
- extra support materials (e.g. concrete materials in maths)
The Parent’s Role
When pupils need extra support in their learning parents will often be able to back this up at home. This is not always appropriate – for instance many dyslexics have to work so hard to keep up in school, and need rest at home to be able to tackle the next day at school. Parents’ help should be sought early, when a need is identified, rather than as a last option, or left only for parents’ evening consultation. Parents can give help with such things as
- learning letters, phonetics, tables and other memory tasks
- extra reading
- co-ordination exercises
Reporting to parents
Reporting to parents about problems/giftings that pupils have should normally be done by the class teacher who will be able to put these things into balance with other areas of the child’s work. It is often preferable to make a special appointment if particular attention is to be drawn to the learning support need since such information can be lost in the volume of other things communicated on a parents evening. It is also useful to speak with both parents together so that the two of them hear directly from the teacher and not second hand. Learning support helpers should provide clear records and personal communication to the teacher about any formal or informal assessments made. This enables the class teacher to give a complete picture of learning support needs. It should be borne in mind that the reporting process is not usually a one way process and parents can often give teachers information about their children that teachers have no other access to.
The role of a learning support helper
It is vital for learning support to work effectively that the role of a helper is clearly identified. While flexibility may develop a clear starting point should be established. Learning support helpers will normally work by giving support with class work. This may be in one of many roles such as:
- an extra “teacher” to whom pupils can refer questions
- a helper with most of the class so that the teacher can take a group for specialised work
- a helper with a group needing extra support
- a helper with specific individuals within the class helping with such things as understanding questions in a comprehension task
While this will usually be within the classroom, pupils may perform class work in another area or classroom to provide a quiet setting with few distractions or to enable them to make more noise without distracting others. Extraction from the class work will sometimes be useful. This may mean doing different work within the same classroom, or in another space. This may be useful for:
- evaluation of the nature of learning support need
- re-teaching areas that pupils should have picked up in earlier years
Helpers may also provide support by developing materials either to use themselves with pupils or for the teacher or other helper to use. Helpers may also help the teacher in planning and with ideas of approaches.
Space for helpers can also be a key issue. A worktop, drawer, desk or even room to leave work or just a bag may be crucial to the efficient and happy working of a learning support helper. This issue should be looked at at the outset of a helper working in a class and the helper welcomed into the class by the provision of suitable space.
For learning support to be coordinated effectively and planned strategically good records are vital. At the beginning of each academic year, the previous year’s teacher should make a brief assessment of the nature each pupil’s learning support needs. In many cases, these will be very minor but important to note none the less. Based on this assessment the class teacher, perhaps in consultation with a L.S. helper, should make a learning plan for each pupil. This will outline the kinds of learning support needed and the amount of helper time needed if any. This plan should be on a single A4 sheet. This will be the starter page of that pupil’s section in a learning support folder. The following pages will be a record of learning support given over the year. Learning plans should not be cast in stone but guides that can be altered as a pupil’s needs change or become apparent.