SEND with Daulby: Unseen teaching tweaks that make all the difference

SEND with Daulby- unseen teaching tweaks

Tania's note: Today's we start a new series of posts from expert educator, Jules Daulby called, appropriately enough, SEND with Daulby. Jules has returned to teaching English and will be sharing a range of strategies within a series of posts.

We hope that by highlighting good practice within both schools and teaching, we can help teachers to up-skill for free and help parents learn tips to help their own children too.

Pedagogy (/ˈpɛdəɡɒdʒi), most commonly understood as the approach to teaching, refers to the theory and practice of learning, and how this process influences, and is influenced by, the social, political and psychological development of learners. Pedagogy, taken as an academic discipline, is the study of how knowledge and skills are imparted in an educational context, and it considers the interactions that take place during learning. Both the theory and practice of pedagogy vary greatly, as they reflect different social, political, and cultural contexts. Pedagogy is often described as the act of teaching.


The unseen pedagogy 

An advantage of returning to the classroom for me has been to notice how my skills and experience can affect my teaching. Honing pedagogy based on years of conversations with parents, Twitter debate with autism experts, reading research, training, strategising as a senior leader, and teaching across a wide range of sectors and phases. I’m back where I feel comfortable. In middle leadership and teaching English. I’m back to teaching a few full days of lessons (important when talking about easy strategies) and I’m back to questioning my ability as a teacher spending quite a lot of time thinking, ‘Oh crap, I could have handled that better.’ 

I’m good at reflection and improvement, but since returning to the classroom I am also noticing the tweaks I use that work. To the onlooker, strategies may seem like nothing, but I know how much it helps when running and reading a room. Perhaps what I’m trying to say without coming across as arrogant, is that I can make spinning plates look easy. 

This series of posts is to show how fine-tuning, while it takes practice, can make a lot of difference to children with SEND in the inclusive classroom. 

I hope they will help less experienced teachers and inform parents and families of the type of free and easy strategies available which save time and tears. Sometimes I wonder if they’re obvious but often when I talk to new teachers, I realise they’re not - teaching is an art and experience helps. Us older teachers do this stuff naturally. These posts are to provoke conversations, not to tell anyone what’s right or wrong. Believe me, I still mess up a lot! 

Enjoy thinking about and trying out these strategies. 

Autism and choice

There is often a misunderstanding around choice for children with autism. One of the worst is to think choice means letting them decide by saying, 

‘What do you want to do?’.

Imagine if you’re in a state of heightened anxiety, are your decision-making skills functioning well at this stage? Or would you like someone to take over and reduce your stress? I know which I’d rather have when my resilience levels are low. Feeling overwhelmed is certainly not the time to say ‘You choose.’ 

What is meant by 'choice' in these scenarios is not an open-ended smorgasbord of choices, but to give clear cut options to choose from thus reducing the load not increasing it.

  • This or that?
  • Either, Or?
  • Ham or cheese in your sandwich? Rather than 'what do you want to eat?'

Choice is also not an opt-out. I’ve seen schools think this is what is meant by, ‘Do you want to do this or not?’ What would your answer be? 

Don't force it

Nevertheless, options don’t mean forcing a pupil into an action once they’ve reached an overwhelmed state. If a child has become so distressed that they can no longer function, that’s fine, leave them be.

However, by then, they’re not making any choices. Moreover, they are unable to physically or mentally continue. Such behaviour is different and it’s important to recognise it as such. What I’m discussing here is preventative or at least early intervention to deescalate a situation before it reaches that point, for example, when students are generally in a positive state, but could be moving towards shut down.

An 'either, or' example

A small but significant teaching strategy I used just yesterday prompted this post. I will refer to the pupil as Sally, she is in year seven and is autistic.

The student was working on spellings when she told me I was going too fast. It is quite common for Sally to state this; her rate is slower than others in the group, which can cause stress when she’s falling behind.

I usually use two options: If the TA is available, he or she will sit and give Sally some support. If that’s not an option, I will suggest missing out a chunk of work to catch up. On this day, these options didn’t work and as I got onto sentence writing, Sally closed her book and announced she wouldn’t do any more writing. This is where choice strategy came in:

“Sally, you can finish your spellings, or write me a sentence.”

I left it a few minutes for this to process, I was calm, I moved away to give her space and I talked to some other students. Then I came back.

“Sally, spellings or sentence?”

Again, I moved away and in the corner of my eye, I saw that she had opened her book and was completing the spellings. That’s it, I didn’t make a big thing of it until the end of the lesson when as she was lining up to leave I said, “Sally, you finished your spellings, well done.” She nodded and went to her next lesson. 

There was no opt-out and no open-ended choice, just a simple and achievable choice. Sally wasn’t backed into a corner where behaviour would have escalated, there were no threats about completing work at break time or giving a detention. It was an insignificant exchange to others in the class. To an outsider, the choice strategy would not have been recognised except perhaps to the trained eye. Be under no doubt however that this incident could have escalated into a big moment, a conflict or the beginnings of a negative relationship, which next lesson would cause anxiety for Sally, possibly even with her refusing to come into my classroom or to do any work. 

In summary

To summarise, don’t make choices open-ended. Narrow them down to two simple options.

This also works with sequencing - FIRST and THEN works well. 

Some students may need visual prompts to go with the choices (this can be words or pictures). My next move with Sally would have been to write down ‘SPELLINGS or SENTENCES’ on a mini whiteboard (it’s why you will see staff with lanyards with a collection of images to show students).

Notice behaviours early. Sally was signalling to me that she was beginning to feel overwhelmed by saying I was going too fast. This should be encouraged as she is also learning to recognise her own feelings and learning barriers. 

Don’t back students into a corner; they must have a get out and choices offer this. Once they have gone past this, however, they need to be left. They’re not choosing to opt out, they just can’t continue. 

Notice how I started every interaction with her name. This is my second 'headline': ‘Say my Name.’ 

Jules Daulby
Jules Daulby

Say my Name

Something I knew, but I’ve noticed more since I returned to teaching, is how each interaction with an autistic student may need to be prefixed with their name. Don’t assume that your second sentence will be understood just because the first was directed at them. Even if you’re looking at them, pointing, using all the seemingly obvious social markers, a student who has social communication difficulties may not realise you are referring to them.  You need to be explicit and gain their attention for each sentence.

I was reminded of this last week with a student who we will call John. 

“John do you want to read your sentence?” 

“Yes.” But John doesn’t do anything. I realise he’s reading it to himself. 

“John that’s great, can you read out loud for the class now please?”. 

There is a relatively long pause, then “Yes.” John reads his sentence. 

“And what did you mean by .......?” John doesn’t respond. Realising I haven’t said his name. I repeat, “John, what did you mean by.... in the sentence you read out to us?’ 

John responds with an excellent answer, I praise him using his name. “John, that’s a great answer, how interesting.” John begins stimming and walks up and down before sitting down. He’s pleased with his success.

Some other similar strategies are to name exactly what you want them to do and where.

“John, come and sit down.” I point to the chair I’d like him to sit in. John sits in a different chair. In another example with a different pupil and teacher, the child sat down on the floor where he was standing. The teacher thought the student was trying to be funny and sent him out. 

Instead, I needed to say, “John, come in and can you sit in this chair please?” I physically touch the chair. “John, on this chair please?”.

Jules will be back soon with more SEND with Daulby tips. If you'd like Jules to help you with a teaching issue, let us know At the end of her series, we'll be publishing it all in a downloadable ebook.

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Jules Daulby

One comment


    Excellent work, and precisely the kind of refined teaching that is needed for anyone for whom learning is not straightforward. I’ll do my best to promote.

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