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When times get tough...

.the tough need more help too. Heather Wallace offers tips on how to handle pupils with learning difficulties

There's no magic answer and I don't always get it right but I do try to be creative. I teach mainly key stage 4 at Abbey School, a special school in Farnham, Surrey, with 90 11-16 year-olds who have learning difficulties and communication disorders, a fifth of whom are autistic.

If a strategy isn't successful I might try a different tack, I will look at the antecedent and the response and think again. Different pupils require different management and it's not about the teacher winning. A positive learning environment, where pupils know what is expected of them and feel valued, minimises challenging behaviour, but it cannot be created overnight.

When they arrive I greet them individually, especially the difficult ones. I always try to find something to praise. Your pupils have to know you like them. Taking an interest in their hobbies and interests which football team they support, TV programmes they like helps, as well as knowing their learning needs. I try to make a distinction between the individual and the bad behaviour.

Public confrontation is usually unhelpful. Moving close and speaking quietly at the pupil's level is best. Sometimes they need reminding of what I want and I tend to finish it with "thank you" rather than "please" as this indicates an expectation that it will be done.

I try to catch them with an interesting starter activity, such as "loop cards" (sequential card games geared to a particular subject) in maths, or "here is the answer write the question". I use technology as much as possible because of the fantastic visual interactive resources that help motivate pupils.

If noise and behaviour levels are not as I expect in a class I don't say anything. I simply hold up a sand timer, representing time that will have to be made up during break or lunch. Positive working and learning earns back the time.

I always try to thank the pupils at the end of the lesson as a whole group or specific individuals if they deserve recognitio *

Heather Wallace is assistant headteacher at the Abbey School, a special school in Farnham, Surrey. She was named Special Needs Teacher of the Year in the South-east of England at the Teaching Awards 2007

Further reading

Heather recommends: Troublesome Behaviour in

the Classroom: a Teacher's Survival Guide by Mick McManus (1989) and (1995).

Effective Classroom Management: a Teacher's Guide by CJ Smith and R Laslett (1985), both published by Routledge.

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