Culture Change in the Autism Learning Environment
This project focused on staff development in the teaching and learning environment for children with Autism at Lakeside School in Welwyn Garden City. We also worked with a group of students described as having PMLD from the Extended Learning base – this was to demonstrate that the Approach could be applied to different learning environments and differentiated for all students.
Staff taking part in the project included, two Autism Leads who work across the school, the Assistant Head who oversaw the work in the Extended Learning Base, three class teachers and a fourth teacher who provided music and creative arts provision across the school. In addition to including the teaching staff and SLT, Lakeside also provided the necessary cover so that Teaching Assistants from all of the class teams could attend the consultancy sessions and, crucially, the breakout discussion sessions where the detailed analysis of practice took place. In the planning phase of the project Lakeside identified the desired aims for the project:
- All participating staff will have an awareness of a range of tools that they can use to support children to the next step of interaction, wherever the children are on that continuum.
- More sophisticated observation skills will be part of day to day practice – staff will see more and make more informed judgements about how to enable learning based on all of the information available to them.
- The skills gained through the process will be generalised to working with students across the ability spectrum.
- Lessons will be more interesting and creative – staff will not need to rely on a “work/choose” model of teaching and learning but will take a child-centred rather than wholly adult directed approach.
The project – a series of ten consultancy sessions for each of the four groups, spaced throughout the academic year – was organised into three phases:
As the project progressed Bamboozle reduced its input into the consultancy sessions as Lakeside staff became more confident with the Approach – eventually taking the lead in delivering their own creative learning sessions. The project also included an INSET day where staff presented their work on the project to their colleagues.
“As a teacher who is relatively new to the profession (3 years), I feel I have learned so much! I have had the chance to observe and analyse some hard-to-reach students which has supported me to make changes in the classroom and teaching that reduce anxiety and give greater chances for child-initiated learning, as well as remove pressure and perceived expectations. I’m looking forward to continuing implementing strategies and teaching in different, more creative styles – thank you!” Class Teacher, Lakeside School
The desired outcomes – defined in the planning process – were met and exceeded as the project progressed:
- Staff will demonstrate the ability to notice small actions, changes in posture, body language and mood on the part of the students with whom they work.
- Staff will demonstrate that they can use a range of strategies in order to respond to the above and to support pupils to develop their interaction abilities.
- Staff will generalise their abilities across a range of different pupils
- Teachers will demonstrate the ability to plan and deliver lessons based upon child-initiated learning.
- Teaching Assistants will demonstrate the ability to develop short learning scenarios by following the lead of pupils and working to the plans of the teacher.
Following the project the school was assessed by the National Autistic Society and awarded Advanced Status Accreditation – the Bamboozle project work also gained a commendation for excellence in practice. The project as a whole led to many positive outcomes:
- Expanding thinking on teaching and learning
- Increased knowledge and understanding of individual pupils, their needs, behaviours and personalities
- Extra tools and strategies for day-to-day practice
- Team cohesion – everyone working together in the same way
- Enabling child-centred learning and providing more differentiated learning for individual pupils
- More fluid learning sessions – moving away from a “work and choose” model
- Providing inclusive learning sessions for a diverse array of pupils
- Calmer and easier-to-manage classroom environments
- More creativity in planning and delivering teaching and learning sessions
- Increased focus and attention in the classroom (staff and pupils) sometimes with reduced language, noise and distraction
- Having the permission and confidence to take time and follow the children’s interests and needs rather than follow a set timetable
- Reduced resistance and challenging behaviour from pupils
- Reduced stress levels for staff – and, in some cases, reduced injury
- Increased confidence to explore different approaches and ideas