How do you feel now?

7th December 2007 at 00:00
Identifying and talking about your emotions can be difficult; it's even tougher if you have learning disabilities. Louise Jackson has ways of making pupils talk.Emotional literacy plays an important role at our school, Pear Tree, a special school for pupils with severe learning disabilities in Kirkham, Lancashire. We use the SEAL (Social and emotional aspects of learning) programme because it helps pupils recognise how they feel and talk about their emotions.

Every week we have a whole-school SEAL assembly introducing the pupils to theme of the week, which is explored through the eyes of our pupils. Digital images of our children are used in specially created PowerPoint presentations to make it meaningful and relevant to their experiences.

One assembly was about what it would take to be happy. Pictures were taken beforehand of the pupils showing different emotions - happy, sad, angry - as well as working in a variety of situations. These were shown via a PowerPoint presentation, with the question: "Do you want to be sad, angry or scared in class?" Naturally, everyone answers "No!"

The pupils then have the chance to talk about how they would like to feel in class. This happens in circle time (for the lower school) and discussion time (upper school) during the course of the week. What would they need to be happy and enjoy working? They formulate class rules for everyone to follow, such as: "Be kind and friendly to everyone".

Our pupils have a range of difficulties and it is important to focus on their particular situation. Many have a hearing impairment and every Friday we have a signing assembly with our school speech therapist, Susan Kidd. Our school policy is "Total communication". Pupils are given many ways to get their message across. A spoken word is something that is gone in a moment whereas a sign is a visual cue that lasts for longer. This gives the child time to process what is being said.

Pupils and staff are taught the Makaton signs, which are needed to help the pupils recognise how they feel; something our pupils find difficult. By learning the signs for the emotions, pupils become aware that at times they feel different. If pupils need to calm down it is easier to defuse the situation by making the sign as it focuses on the behaviour and not the child

Louise Jackson is assistant headteacher at Pear Tree School, a secondary special school in Kirkham, Lancashire.

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