On meeting the needs of all children

As teachers, we are often asked about how we are meeting the needs of all children. In my honest opinion I don’t think – in an individual lesson – I have ever truly met the specific needs of every individual I have taught.  Without 30 forms of differentiation this is impossible.

Some children can learn more in a 5 minute targeted intervention than in an hour long, whole class session. What you can do in every lesson is include elements that give everybody the best chance of accessing the learning available and over time you will be able to meet children’s needs.  

Visual Timetable

If you haven’t got one, get one.  These are deemed good practice for children with Autistic Spectrum Condition, amongst other Learning needs, but they work well for everyone.  It lets children know what is happening, helps them to emotionally and mentally prepare for what is coming during the day, and stops them asking “when will it be lunchtime?” in the middle of your phonics session.

A clear, shared learning objective

It doesn’t matter how your school structure learning objectives, take time to share them at some point during the session, and explain them to the children if necessary.  If everybody knows and understands what they are expected to learn/understand/be able to do by the end of the lesson, it will help you focus your teaching to enable everyone to get there.

Differentiation

An obvious one, I hope, but important to mention.  Differentiation takes 3 basic forms; Differentiation by task (How will you adapt the task for children?), Differentiation by Support (What support will enable them to get there? Adult support?, peer support?, concrete apparatus?, word mat?, etc. ) and Differentiation by outcome (Everyone will do the same task, but what they produce will be different).  Within a lesson you may have 1 or all 3 of these. Remember that whatever support you offer should be support that will enable them to meet the learning objective (not complete the task) that you set out at the start.

Success Criteria

When planning your lesson, success criteria can be a key checklist to help ensure you, and ideally the children, have a clear understanding of how you can meet the learning objective. I always think of success criteria as a recipe. Sometimes you need the ingredients part (capital letters and full stops, adjectives, conjunctions – when completing a piece of writing), or the step-by-step part (first add together the ones numbers, if you have more than 10, exchange 10 ones for one ten, then add together the tens, don’t forget any extras you have made from the ones – when introducing column addition in maths). These success criteria help to focus your differentiation. 

What parts will students need more support with? (a word mat for adjectives, Dienes equipment in maths) How can I shape my tasks to let all the children succeed? (Variation in numbers utilised, pictures to help children generate sentences) It can also help shape your teaching.

Modelling

Children need to see processes modelled.  This is something even more experienced teachers I have worked with shy away from at times – particularly in observed lessons – but is something so vital for the children. The ability to watch a shared piece of work coming together and the shared writing process can be hugely beneficial to all children. I always had children with whiteboards on the carpet and at times would ask them to write down example adjectives that could work, at other times a whole sentence to keep children engaged in the learning process. We often assume children know what we mean when we ask them to do something. In my experience, this leads to multiple regathering of the children to explain again.  Save yourself some time and energy by ensuring expectations and processes have been modelled effectively first.

Flexible grouping

I led our school away from ‘ability grouping’ about 10 years ago.  It was met with resistance at first – often to do with how much harder it would make their lives.  What actually happened was that when teachers tried grouping children based on the previous lesson, or adapting groups during the lesson, they found that the children were gaining more success, the ‘lower achievers’ were no longer grouped together incapacitated until the ‘adult’ arrived to support them and children were no longer ceiling based on what others who were in the same group as them could be expected to do.  

When teaching writing, children would be sat in mixed ability groups on the first day, but, after reviewing their work that evening, they were re-grouped based upon their needs. Some needed support with the structure of their writing, and some with developing more complex sentence structures. These children could then receive focussed teaching to address these needs, whilst others could continue with their work.  

In maths each day children would be regrouped, some may need to go back a step and utilise more concrete methods, others may need moving on.  The way I planned never changed and the opportunities I needed to prepare hadn’t increased.  What had changed was the targeted support children could receive and that they were no longer pre-labelled because they were in ‘red group’. 

Children with SEND

I could write 13 Blogs about how to support individuals with varying SEND types and still not scratch the surface of the complexity of needs that are out there, and how each child is an individual and will vary from the next.  When planning for these children I always start with what they can do.  What are their strengths? How can I use these to help them address their next steps?  For some children building independence can be a key skill for them, for some it can be through repeated retrieval of key skills.  You know your children far better than I do.  

Look at any associated paperwork: EHCPs, IEPs (or whatever name your school gives to them. Speak to previous teachers, TAs, the SENDCo.  No one will expect you to know everything there is to know. What your school should expect is that you are trying things out and reviewing their effectiveness. Did that work today? Did they achieve what I wanted them to?  If yes, try the same process again (don’t be disheartened if it doesn’t work on the second time, children are complex individuals).  And if it didn’t work, you have successfully found a method that doesn’t work for that child, and that is important information that you can pass on to the child’s next teacher.  

Having taught for nearly 18 years I can honestly say, every time I work with a child with more complex SEND needs, I learn more from them than they learn from me.  As teachers it is about us being open to that learning and not being afraid to take a risk and try something new. 

I once worked with a child who had to sing a song to help him remember how to spell his name.  We tried this as we found he could remember song lyrics, (starting with his strength) and then used this to help him achieve his next step – to be able to spell his first name correctly. 

I apologise if you were hoping this blog post was going to reveal the magical answer to meeting the needs of all children. If anyone finds one, please pass it my way.  What I hope you have found are the key things to consider that give you the best chance of being able to meet the needs of individuals over time.  Some of them are quite obvious, some may be things you can tweak.  What is important when setting out to meet the needs of children is that above all else you start with the knowledge you have of that child and give things a go. 

About the author

Mr T NQT SupportMr T is an Experienced NQT Mentor who wants to share expertise and support students and newly qualified teachers as they navigate their early career.

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