It is a peculiar but common occurrence that when it comes to revision, teachers often forget to differentiate for children with special educational needs and disability (SEND). You could have the most inclusive teacher in the classroom, full of excellent strategies to ensure everyone can access the lesson, but as soon as revision tasks are set, they fall back to the generic “revise X”.
As Alex Quigley points out in this week's magazine (“Have you got revision all wrong?”), such guidance is unhelpful to all students. But for children with SEND, it’s particularly damaging.
Indeed, there are many things that a teacher needs to think about when it comes to revision support for students with SEND. A detailed knowledge of the student in question and the assistance of the special educational needs and disabilities coordinator should be the starting point of any strategy to help the individual succeed. But there are some general tips that will provide a framework for properly supporting the revision of students with SEND. Here are 12 things to consider.
1. Break revision down into small steps
For pupils with SEND, we need to push the specificity of revision topic and instructions. Let’s take the periodic table as an example: you might set the class the task of remembering a certain number of elements. For those with SEND, you might need to scaffold this further. You could create a resource with a picture of each of the elements down one side of A4 paper and dotted lines next to each. Ask the student to describe the symbols in one or two sentences. Following this activity, give the sheet out again and see if they can repeat the exercise from memory. Such an approach can be adapted for different subjects.
2. Visual prompts can be really useful
If you have been studying The Tempest, ensure that a student with SEND has created lots of images, mind maps and spider diagrams to revise from. Not only is making these visual reminders useful for memory, but for those with SEND, they can be a comfort blanket to get through what for many feels like an ordeal.
Help students to cluster this information around specific areas. This should be incredibly detailed, not just key quotes or characters, but clearly structured: what, when, why, where and how?
Getting students to work in pairs can be very effective. We use flashcards created by our teaching assistants that pose questions and answers, so that students can quiz each other.
4. Never underestimate the power of song and rhythm
Making things into songs can be incredibly powerful. For example, learning the parts of the body for PE to the tune of Old MacDonald can work wonders, especially if actions are included. It has to be multisensory: sing it, physically touch the area to feel where the parts are, write it out, say it, put it in a sentence, then answer some practice exam questions. You might observe some students quietly acting out the actions in the exam hall.
5. Narrative is key
If students can attach a mental hook to something, they are more likely to remember it. A great way of doing this is to create a narrative around the topic.
I heard of a great lesson like this from a university architecture lecturer. To get students to remember building regulations, she put them in pairs, holding cups of coffee and role-playing conversations with a building inspector.
The “inspector” would ask firm questions such as, “Why is there no door going into the conservatory?” The student would then have to answer using the regulations.
Visualising conversations may help many students with SEND to memorise information by setting it in real-world context. The lecturer said that the students who found this approach useful would often be seen subtly gesticulating in the exam hall, remembering the conversations they’d had holding cups of coffee.
6. Mnemonics are really useful
I still use the phrase “big elephants are ugly” so that I can spell “beautiful” correctly. These little verbal exercises are effective and engaging, particularly for those with SEND, but you could go one step further.
I have found that visual symbols can be really effective. For example, to memorise a key phrase in the assessment of dyslexia – “phonological awareness is the ability to reflect upon and manipulate the sound structure of words” – I was taught by my tutor to break it down into the following:
* a mirror for “reflect”;
* an elastic band for “manipulate”;
* Lego for “sound structure”;
* a dictionary for “words”.
The items were laid out in front of us and we would say the phrase, while picking up and using the object. It’s one of the only phrases I have ever learned off by heart. Even after three years, the memory of the props can trigger retrieval if I forget.
7. Active listening
As a class, the teacher reads out a section of text but has asked students to listen and feed back on one specific area. If reading Macbeth, for instance, give students different characters to listen out for, or if you are studying a poem, give out different words.
For those with SEND, it can be a useful way of not overloading the student and ensuring they are not intimidated by the need to try to spot everything. This ensures that they do listen to the whole much more attentively than they would have done otherwise.
8. Decoding exam questions
I like to train the students to differentiate between the command words of a question and the subject-specific words. It’s worth having two separate colours and getting students to highlight which are which. What should be left is extraneous carrier language that can be ignored. For some students with SEND, this can be important in enabling them to process what exactly it is they are being asked to do in an exam.
9. Making connections
Some students, particularly with autism, might struggle to connect what the exam question is asking them to do with the subject knowledge they possess. Lots of practice contextualising and understanding the question will be required. Again, spider diagrams (linked to the decoding exercise above) may help the students to literally “see” the question and think around the topic.
Speech and language therapists will talk until they’re blue in the face about this. Pupils may have a raft of knowledge, but can they tell you what topic it is a part of? When studying wind turbines, for example, can the students tell you that the subject is part of “renewable energy”? Without initially learning the category, it’s very difficult for students to learn and then retrieve the information correctly. For history, I made flashcards of all the key words linked to an American history unit.
11. Practise using key vocab in sentences
While this might seem obvious, there are many students who have memorised key words, learned to spell them, even say them, but are less comfortable using them in a sentence. Rather than getting students to merely explain what a word means, they need to practise using the words.
12. Literacy doughnuts
This idea has come from speech and language therapists, too. Using three circles (we’ve blown them up onto A3 paper), prioritise the important information or words into the inner circle and then, in descending priority, the middle and the outer.
Literacy doughnuts allow students to revise in a slightly different way to concept maps. But they can also prevent some students from panicking, as they can initially concentrate on memorising the inner circle.
Jules Daulby is literacy and language coordinator for Thomas Hardye School in Dorset