A severe case of normality

2nd May 1997 at 01:00

LIFE SKILLS: GO FOR IT!. BBC2 Mondays, 10.30-10.50am To May 12. Age range: 16-19

This five-part series looks at how people with learning difficulties cope with everyday situations such as shopping for food and clothes, travelling on a bus, and listening to music with friends. The presenters, Paul King and June Keenlyside, have learning difficulties themselves.

Many of the situations require the students to make choices and decisions for themselves. These can involve multiple options, such as in a clothes shop, or a few, such as when they are being encouraged to choose between three menus to cook for lunch.

I have watched all of the programmes twice - mostly because I found the attitude of the participants to being filmed so delightful and fresh - and there were several happy moments when I found myself identifying with the students. For example, on a shopping expedition to buy clothes, one of them is so delighted with her purchase that she gleefully holds it up to the camera operator for approval, with a huge smile.

The series offers some extremely good teaching ideas. The first programme features a recipe board that uses pictorial prompts, and another shows a telephone index which contains photographs of friends and family next to their telephone numbers.

Sharing with friends and family; going out on work experience; making independent choices; and organising social events, such as phoning for a taxi to go to the pub and the bowling alley - these are all experiences which would interest the viewers and stimulate conversation afterwards.

Television is a wonderful medium for conveying messages, and if I have a criticism it is that sometimes the messages in the titles (which are accompanied by symbols) appear too quickly, with no voice-over, so the written words and the symbols disappear before many students will have had time to absorb them. It should surely have been possible to have recorded a voice-over from the participants.

It is surprising that none of the students who took the main parts in the five programmes appears to have a physical or sensory disability, which does not reflect the experience of most students in schools for people with severe learning difficulties.

The programmes are supported by teacher's notes and worksheets, together with a colourful poster, which would be useful to use before and after the programmes to lead activities and discussion. Some of the worksheets will need further explanation, however, as they are hard to understand.

Most teachers working with people with severe learning difficulties will enjoy these programmes; they are lively, entertaining and well worth watching.

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