Learning from images, objects and experiences

5th January 2018 at 00:00
Using a different sort of text helps learners, especially those with SEND, says Nancy Gedge

Using objects as a teaching resource – that is, using evidence from the time we are studying to teach the content of the curriculum – is something primary and history teachers tend to do a lot.

This could be anything from an artefact to a document. It’s a way of connecting, first hand, with the past, or, if you want to be geographical about it, a different place to the one you currently inhabit.

But here’s the thing. Recently, I was doing a bit of research into how teachers could reduce the reading load in lessons – in order for those with SEND to access the knowledge – and I realised that all teachers, not only history or primary ones, could use exactly the same principle. In the process of making their lessons more accessible, they could make them more interesting, fun and memorable, too.

Now, I’m not the sort of person who is going to tell you that you can control what goes into a child’s memory, no matter how many quizzes you set or how spaced your planning is. Someone, somewhere, is always going to remember the time that Kamil was sick on the bus, when a snake came to visit and Ms Gedge lost the plot, or when they were unexpectedly given a starring role in the school play – rather than the finer points of the industrial revolution or the growth of farms and farming.

Pictures stay in the mind

But here’s the thing: some very clever psychologists have done some very interesting finding out when it comes to memory and they have discovered what many of us have experienced, both first- and second-hand: that when something like an image, object or experience is tied to a story, the chances of children remembering all about it are very strong indeed. And yes, I know that there are lots of different ways we can use narrative in lessons to make them more memorable.

Often, I think we could justifiably be accused of letting a child’s SEND stand in the way of their access to the curriculum. It’s not just a matter of sending them off to their intervention when they should be in music, PE, art or history – or any other subject deemed not important enough – but also in the way that we unintentionally dilute knowledge when we adapt texts to make them less challenging to read.

I think we could take a leaf out of the book of the history or geography teacher, or music or science or art – I know we all do it – and use a different sort of text to give all children access to a broad and balanced curriculum.

Nancy Gedge is a consultant teacher for the Driver Youth Trust, which works with schools and teachers on SEND. She is the Tes SEND specialist, and author of Inclusion for Primary School Teachers. She tweets @nancygedge ‏

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