We aspire to deliver life changing practise through high quality teaching & learning based on sound knowledge of each child’s needs. We understand the privilege we hold to be able to have a positive impact on our learners’ every time they come through the doors into school.
It is fundamental to the curriculum that we can be helping the learner make progress towards all their targets, no matter what the activity they are engaged in, at any time of the day. This includes break times, play times, off-site visits (even the journeys), personal care, eating time and so on. Learning is best done when every moment and situation is regarded as a learning opportunity (Routes for Learning, 2006). It could be argued for example, that necessities like toileting and feeding directly impinge upon the school’s ability to educate, since doing it efficiently, safely and with care and consideration, takes up so much of the school day. Yet these are precisely the areas of learning which challenge us to use learning time effectively. Therapies are also integrated throughout the day, and throughout the learning, with the curriculum supporting the delivery of therapy and therapy supporting the learner progress.
The structure of the school day is timetabled for the different needs of different classes and learners, ranging from the very free flowing, slow-paced, reactive practice for PMLD and early years, through to a semi-formal, more structured approach for the most high-ability learners who have a more subject-specific curriculum, or for those who require a high level of structure such as those on the autism spectrum.
Each pupil drives the direction and content of their own ‘curriculum’. Whilst we deliver our curriculum through half-termly topics, the planning, learning and delivery may differ between and within classes. Priorities based on PLG targets, EHC outcomes, students’ age, need, motivation and learning style will help build the curriculum. It is essential that our pupils are comfortable and ready to learn and there is a focus on students being skilfully supported to be as independent as they can be. Learning opportunities should be concrete and real. Real objects should be used or very tangible representations of things/feelings/atmospheres. We expect more learning to take place when we teach in a concrete manner, through real life actual experiences, rather than in an abstract manner (through things such as written or spoken language). This means that learning is likely to be enhanced if we can actually practice thinking and problem solving in real situations in real time.
We need to be able to take every opportunity that the children present, as we cannot predict what their physical state might be, nor their levels of alertness, nor always what stimulus works or doesn’t. There are very few ‘lessons’ in the old- fashioned sense of children listening to a teacher and following instructions, rather we try what we think might work and then follow the children’s responses to see where we might go next, and this mostly means on an individual basis, or very small groups within a class. Our learners will not learn effectively under stress and therefore they must:
- Feel secure with the people around them
- Feel safe
- Be positioned comfortably
- Not be overloaded with stimuli (Cognitive Overload)
- Not be overly thirsty, hungry, tired etc.
- Be calm, as much as is possible to know
Learning is often skill-based, that need to be required by much practice. A skill must be broken down into smaller steps that are repeated over time so that they can be mastered and applied to relevant situations. Cognitive science tells us that learning is most effective with repetition and helps develop a deeper understanding. Our curriculum is not one-off activities that are likely to be forgotten but instead build up to mastery over time, where applicable, to enable fluency, reasoning and problem solving. Skills are improved if they are taught in context and the learner understands why. Our learners need an understanding of cause and effect to understand intrinsic reward, and they need to be motivated to engage within an activity. However, we recognise that a skill can be acquired without understanding and can be a useful teaching technique and a justifiable teaching and learning goal.
We allow and actively encourage our students to learn from their mistakes. Skills can and will be lost if we were to stop teaching them, therefore they are regularly practiced. We provide the opportunity for learners to make small steps of progress and allows for the transfer of knowledge and skills into different and new contexts.
Oracy and our use of language must be clear and expressive. Sessions can be ‘teacher led’ with a structure, or may be set out in the class to allow for supported pupil-led exploration with only a small amount of teacher led introduction. Adults create ladders and scaffolds to provide additional support for our learners, which are gradually taken away as the learner “learns” to be more independent and solve problems on their own. It is important that we enable the students enough time in order to succeed and enable opportunities for students to take risks, make mistakes and work up through the following levels:
- Participatory – during which learners perform activities with considerable physical assistant, which may include physical manipulation or partial assisted movement and assisted technology such as switches, adapted utensils etc.
- Supported – during which learners perform activities with guidance and support, which may include physical prompts – such as object or music cues, verbal prompts, visual prompts – such as colour coding, icons or symbols, pictures or assistive technology such as BIGmack switches. All with supervision from occasional inspection to continuous observation.
- Independent – the final level where learners should be expected to perform the activities on their own.
Irresistible engagement is central to everything we do. Staff will continually consider how they can change the learner activity to stimulate curiosity, what they can change about the experience to encourage the child to persist, find learning that our learners respond to best. In order for the moment of discovery to come and real learning to occur, our pupils need us to wait and be given the time and space to process and discover.
The use of cues
Underpinning the delivery of all communicative activities throughout the day will be the extensive use of cues. These essentially fall into the category of Alternative and Augmentative Communication (AAC) and will include touch cues, sound cues, object cues, signing, symbol use and photographic cues.
Object cues (Objects of Reference; OoR) - At Ivy House we use a generic, standard set of objects across the whole school for key actions throughout the day such as our time to learn star. This helps support our learners make sense of the world around them, helping to structure and routine the day. OoR should be readily available in every classroom and in key places around the school such as bathroom doors.
Touch cues - These are very simple additional physical cues to assist with understanding, for example, a tap on the right shoulder indicates to the learner the wheelchair is turning right.
Sound cues – At Ivy House these are generally pieces of music which are played at the start or end of a particular session. For example, the school day starts with the same start and finish song throughout the school. Classes will have a time to learn and plenary song.
Symbol cues - Particularly used to develop choice making or make sense of the current task for example in the use of work cards to support understanding of the current demands on the learner.
Signed cues – using Makaton symbols as part of a total communication approach, even if learners are unable to understand the particular sign.