The text is the outcome of a project conducted with pre-service teachers training in English Unlimited Teacher Training College. The aim was to become familiar with teaching in schools with SEN and integrating classes. For more see: Case Study: Teaching Special Needs Children, More Than a Touch of Autism, Case Study of a SEN Learner, Case study - Teaching Blind Children, Case Study: Special Educational Needs Children in Mainstream Education in Poland, Observing Classes with SEN Students
Special Educational Needs: A Case Study
Karolina Woźniak, Poland
Information gathered from…
Observation of an English lesson
Observation of a lesson of another subject – Polish lesson
Conclusions: my own reflections
I spent two unforgettable days in Szkoła Podstawowa nr 34 z Oddziałami Integracyjnymi (school with SEN and integration programme) in Gdynia. This year there are 333 pupils (38 of them are handicapped students). In total there are 18 forms including 2 for pre-school children. On each form there is usually one ordinary and two integrating classes (3 or 4 children with special needs). As far as the staff is concerned, there are 44 teachers including about 10 supporting teachers.
On the one hand I was impressed by the school and caring atmosphere. I had a chance to see different classrooms and I must admit that they were very well-equipped. I was surprised to see the inflatable pool full of colorful balls and big building blocks in one of them. But on the other hand the school is not adapted to children who have to live in a wheelchair. I saw the boy who has mobility difficulties and caretakers had to help him to go upstairs.
I am of the opinion that this school is ‘children friendly’. The pupils have a lot of possibilities to develop and practise their favourite skills. The school offers a wide range of activities after lessons. Moreover, there are additional (free of charge) language classes. Some of the pupils study both English and German.
The headmistress of the school suggested that I can observe one of the third-form pupils. Dawid’s class consists of 21 children. Four of them are children with SEN. Asia functions on the borderline of light level of mental disability, Adam is diagnosed with ADHD, Marcin with Asperger’s disorder (however, his language teacher told me that she presumes he has Schizophrenia), and there is also Dawid who has Down Syndrome.
Teachers say that it is very difficult class. First of all, there should not be children with ADHD and Asperger’s disorder in the same group. Secondly, there are too many pupils. What is more, there is a wide ability range in this class.
This is an integrating class, so most of the pupils stick to a regular syllabus, whereas four of them have a special curriculum prepared by the supporting teacher. Pupils in this class have contact with five (sometimes six) different teachers. The most important person is the class tutor who teaches them everyday and Mrs. Joanna who is supporting teacher. All the students attend English classes; some of them learn also German. They have different person who runs eurhythmics, and the last one is their religion teacher.
The headmistress told me that she is very proud that they managed to create integrating classes. It is important that children with SEN can learn and spend time with kids their own age. For them an opportunity to learn with others strengthens their self-confidence, allows creating the real image of themselves, and gives them a chance to discover their abilities, skills and interests. Integration helps them to believe that they can be accepted by other people regardless of their disabilities or weaknesses. On the other hand there are healthy children who learn tolerance to otherness and disability. They are taught that ‘handicapped’ does not mean ‘worse’.
I asked the class tutor how pupils treat those children with special needs. Unfortunately, there are not as tolerant as a headmistress told me. The class tutor said that they are like two different teams. Asia, Adam and Dawid sit in the corner of the classroom and work with the supporting teacher, whereas Marcin and the rest of the class work together. It happens very often that during the brake healthy children want to encourage only Dawid (Down syndrome) to play with them, but he very often prefers to stay with Adam and Asia. She said that he is well liked at school and very sociable. Dawid takes part in many competitions and the whole class always cheers for him. I have heard that he even won a gold medal in football match. He likes dancing and singing a lot. They are in progress of making preparations for Mother’s Day, and Dawid cannot wait when his mum sees him dancing polonaise.
The teacher told me that she is aware of the intellectual limitation of handicapped children, that they will never speak fluently in a foreign language, but she believes that thanks to various techniques and method they are able to learn basic vocabulary and phrases in English. Even, if they are not able to use them, they will show or point at them. She explained me that when working with children with special needs, we must remember that they need more time to assimilate knowledge and we have to be also aware that they may never achieve what we want to teach them. Having in one class a child with ADHD, with Down syndrome and children with other problems, the teacher must be very creative and flexible.
The teacher told me that it is very important to activate all students’ senses. They need various techniques to activate their brains. It is not enough to show them one thing and tell about it, but they must touch it. She uses a lot of realia and pictures. Mrs. Iwona claims that the most effective methods of teaching children with special needs are: drama, games, role plays and songs.
She admitted that Dawid is one of her favourite pupils. He is very good at learning English - always prepared and does everything systematically. He has not got so called ‘worse days’. He likes her subject. When I asked about his level she said that it is comparable to that the other children (healthy but weak pupils) represent. He is favourite task is matching words with pictures, but on the other hand he does not like writing.
First of all, I must admit that Dawid and his friends are lucky to have such a nice teacher. We have spent almost two hours talking about children. She is a very experienced person and my own feeling is that she is able to do everything to help their pupils. Mrs. Joanna knows them and their needs very well. I must admit that I was moved to tears when I heard a story about one of the kids. It breaks my heart when I hear about parents who do not care what happens to their children.
I gathered a lot of information about Dawid (Down syndrome) and his behaviour at school. I had a chance to see his medical certificate. According to it, his intelligence is combined between mild retardation and impairment. His progress is not rapid but he makes it all the time. Dawid can define meanings of many words, he is able to spot the difference and similarities in the pictures and he can also notice and define missing details. He is good at art and sport. He was given a reward for his painting. However, ha has some problems with writing and also he is not good at maths. As far as memorizing is concerned, his results are rather poor. I think it is due to lack of concentration. The other problem is his manual dexterity. It is important to prepare such tasks which will require memorizing, concentration and all manual activities. She uses ‘Ćwiczenia Hanny Tymichovej usprawniające technikę rysowania i pisania’ very often.
Dawid is always very well prepared, he works systematically. His elder brothers help him with homework. He is lucky to have parents who spent a lot of time working with him and get along with his teachers.
There are four children in this group (Adam, Asia, Marcin and Dawid). The aim of the lesson is to revise vocabulary connected with food. The first part of the lesson is dedicated to revising vocabulary from the previous lesson. At the beginning, the T asks the Ss what they had for their breakfast. Dawid raises his hand immediately and says: chips, sausages and piciu. The T asks what he drank and she gives him an English equivalent. Dawid repeats after the T. Only Dawid and Asia answer. The other boys are playing.
Next the T shows flashcards and the Ss have to tell what they see. They repeat all the words together. The T moves on to the other activity. She explains the instruction in English and to my mind, they understand it. They have to sit on a carpet and guess the name of the food the T is showing (flashcards). The T varies a pace of revealing the pictures. Mrs. Iwona stands about two metres in front of them. If their answer is correct, they can move a little bit closer. Everyone is involved and tries to guess. Only Adam (ADHD) is disheartened when he does not remember something.
Then, the T gives everyone a different picture and ask me to take part in this activity. The children are very happy that I play with them. Dawid gives me a hug and asks to sit next to him. The T says two different names of food and learners who have those pictures have to swap places.
Next Mrs. Iwona asks the children if they like dancing. (in English). Dawid stands up and starts dancing immediately. She explains that they are going to listen to the song (‘Bugs 2’; ‘What’s for breakfast?’). They are asked to come to the blackboard and sing and dance (in rap style). Then, they are given the lyrics (‘Bugs 2’; workbook p.41) with gaps to fill in. Dawid has no problem with the task. He finishes first. The T helps other pupils so Dawid takes the T’s flashcards and revises vocabulary . Actually, if he does not know how to say something in English, he uses Polish. They are given one more piece of paper where they have to draw and write what the princess has for her breakfast, lunch and dinner (‘Bugs 2’; workbook p. 37). Everyone has to come up to the blackboard and draw what the T says. Dawid is asked to draw pasta, but he draws rice (it is hard to say whether he does not know how to draw pasta or he confuses those two words).
At the end of the lesson (Ss who listened to the T and behaved well – only Asia and Dawid) may use a computer and play games (‘Bugs 1’ – CD-ROM; Unit 4, Game 2). The T helps them; the other children finish doing exercises and then play with each other.
One of the teachers conducts the lesson according to general syllabus whereas the supporting teacher adapts it to the other pupils’ abilities (children with special needs).
The subject of the lesson is to talk about different newspapers and magazines. At the beginning, the pupils (all children) are asked about the titles of the newspapers or magazines they read. Dawid says that he reads ‘Harry Potter’ but the T explains that it is a book. However, one of the pupils explains that there is also a magazine called ‘Harry Potter’. After a short discussion the children are given different newspapers and magazines and they have to tell each other what we can find there. They have some time to look through them. Dawid reacts ecstatically when he sees ‘The Chronicles of Narnia’ advertisement.
Then the children open their books (‘Już w szkole - obserwuję, przeżywam, poznaję.’) and their task is to write the names of the newspapers in the right column. The children with SEN are given the titles on the little slips of paper and they have to cut them, read them aloud and stick in the proper place. Dawid has no problem with reading and completing the table.
Next they are asked to fill in the sentences with the stickers which are at the end of their book. (Dawid sticks each sticker to his fingers and acts as he is playing the piano). Then they have to draw the cover of the newspaper they usually read. Dawid draws Harry Potter (he has not any problems with spelling the title). Suddenly he stands up and goes towards the teacher’s desk (the supporting teacher explains that he has to keep his crayons and pencils at school because he may lose them). Unfortunately, he uses only black colour. When the T helps the other child, Dawid starts drawing the table. However, Mrs. Joanna notices it and he knows that he must wipe it off. She said that it happens very often. The T provides the pupils with homework (Dawid is irritated). The T says that it is the end of the lesson. Dawid clears a desk, puts his pencil case on its place says ‘good bye’ to me.
When teaching handicapped children it takes some time to see results. However, I am absolutely convinced that it is worth doing. Sometimes the children with special educational needs may never achieve success but their joy of learning is the best reward for the teacher. The integrating classes create great possibilities for both disabled and healthy pupils. Children learn through the interaction with others. The group work, in which each child has its input, allows overcoming the limits and diminishes differences between the obligatory and therapeutic programme. It is important that assessing is adapted not to the results but to the input which was put in work. Those children need to be taught little by little, they require frequent repetitions and their memory works better by making associations. Teachers have to match the programme to the children and not children to the programme. I firmly believe that pupils with SEN are able to learn a foreign language but their success depends on the techniques and methods their teacher uses.
To sum up I would like to admit that I am very pleased that I had a chance to see how integrating classes work and that I met Dawid and his teachers. I am going to get into contact with Dawid’s parents and suggest that I could meet with him once or twice a week and teach Dawid English.
Please check the Special Needs and Inclusive Learning course at Pilgrims website.
Please check the Dealing with Difficult Learners course at Pilgrims website.
Please check the How to be a Teacher Trainer course at Pilgrims website.