Special Arrangements

By Durant, Richard | NATE Classroom, Autumn 2010 | Go to article overview

Special Arrangements


Durant, Richard, NATE Classroom


These days I live only by special arrangement with my doctors. They are encouraging in a casual, matter-of-fact way. It's as though they fear that if they are too enthusiastic I might assume they have something to hide and draw the obvious conclusion that I won't need to worry about change for the hospital car park much longer. The fact is that however positive I know I should be, I no longer really feel in control. I feel rather ashamed of my condition. And so I pretend that is the last thing I feel. Maybe it will be the last thing I feel.

I scan the faces of those I pass in the rubbery, roller-painted corridors for signs of fellow-feeling, but I can read nothing. Even the extravagantly bandaged seem determined to convey the impression that this is a natural look. They keep their feelings to themselves. We all have special medical needs and we endure them stoically.

Perhaps this is what schools are like for many students with special educational needs: disorientating, disempowering, shaming, and perhaps these are the feelings engendered by a system that, paradoxically, actually cares. These days I am increasingly haunted by the face of Kayleigh Bugner (not her real name). Kayleigh had two main modes of operation. The first was a semi-smirking look of twisted disgruntlement, which many teachers took to be insolence. The other was a stream of abuse and a slam of the door as, needled by my insistence upon polite conventions and some work, she left the lesson early. In retrospect, probably my lessons were for Kayleigh what hospital is for me. This article is for Kayleigh, and also for those very able classmates who were even less tolerant of her than I was.

What discourages struggling learners is English's conceptual slipperiness and its emphasis on interpretation and feeling. One of the rare times that Kayleigh's face lit up was when she learnt the spelling and magical meaning of onomatopoeia: here was some real knowledge that could be acquired and shown off. Direct speech, mood and characterisation (NLS Y7) is aimed at struggling students and in the context of Oliver Twist introduces the idea of 'speech tags' (e.g. 'the girl replied sadly'). Here is some real and transparent knowledge to build learners' confidence. Reinforce it by asking less able students to 'novelise' part of a film of Oliver Twist. Less able students might struggle to produce meaningful outcomes from First person narrative but this resource could help able students to explore subtleties of narrative viewpoint in an active, creative way. Use Teachit's Magnet to help less able students to timeline or 'rank order' Oliver's changing feelings: frightened, bewildered, shocked, etc.

We can be as creative and stimulating as we like, but unless students can write competent sentences then they will never believe in themselves as writers. That is why we need to give plenty of attention to sentence-building and sentence control. Sophistication depends as much on syntax as it does on hair-styles. The Literacy Progress Units still have a lot to offer struggling writers and Teachit has some powerpointed versions. Session 7: writing subordinate clauses is a useful first step in syntactic sophistication. …

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