Enriching Learning for Secondary Complex Needs Students
Woodlands Secondary School in Luton has a very broad range of abilities amongst its students. The Senior Leadership Team felt that sometimes the attention given to PMLD students lagged behind that given to other, more challenging, student groups. For this reason Woodlands sought to focus on enabling students with complex needs to achieve their full potential and on recognising and celebrating their achievements.
“The project has been a success on many levels:-
• It has given people license to be creative.
• It has made staff think differently and try other approaches.
• It has given time for reflection.
• Break-out sessions have allowed staff to talk through ideas.
• Groups have worked together.
• Really excellent CPD for staff. Good value for money – hands on training.
• Staff feel empowered.”
Debbie Foolkes, Headteacher
There were two key elements to this project:
- Creating & using multi-sensory environments (MSEs).
- A “Less in More” approach to teaching and learning using Bamboozle’s methodology.
The project focussed on staff development within the complex needs team and explored:
- Supporting staff teams to create MSEs in the studio or classroom and to explore ways to develop and make use of them.
- Supporting staff teams in developing strategies to enhance leaning opportunities for students through a creative, non-judgemental approach to teaching and learning.
- A “less is more” approach both to the classroom environment and to the teaching and learning process.
- How to enhance the atmosphere of the learning environment so that it nurtures both staff and student focus.
- Ways of seeking greater engagement from students with complex needs and enhancing the quality of the attention given to them.
- Giving staff the confidence to stand back and observe how their students interact and then build upon those interactions.
- Ways of valuing student input and empowering and enabling students to take a more active role in their learning.
- Creative ways to enhance narrative beyond traditional storytelling and set story books.
There were four phases to the project:
- Performances of Bamboozle’s The Girl and the Goat at Woodlands in January, 2016 – followed by an afterschool INSET with the show’s designer to talk through elements of the setting and design and how they might be adapted for use in school.
- Creation of a multi-sensory environment in the studio by a Bamboozle designer and the Woodlands staff team in January, 2016.
- One half-day session for each of the four class groups with a Bamboozle facilitator on ways of using the new multi-sensory environment in January, 2016.
- Seven half day consultancy sessions during the spring and summer terms, 2016, for each of the four class groups to explore a number of different strategies that form part of Bamboozle’s Approach to working with students.
In addition to this there were two twilight INSET sessions to review the project’s progress along the way.
“The idea of Less is More is excellent – it gives students more opportunities to explore and engage themselves. The whole experience has been valuable because I have seen more commitment on the part of students to interact and enjoy their learning too. The idea of the environment has added beauty to their learning. It takes time and logical thinking to create a space. I hope to put up one of them in the near future. Overall, the combination of the approach and fully understanding of the students have added to the immense progress they showed. Thank you.” Class Teacher, Woodlands Secondary School.
At the end of the project we held a review session which involved all participating staff and the SLT – they confirmed that all of the project aims had been met and highlighted many areas in which the project had been successful:
- Working as a team – staff felt that the project has allowed the PMLD classes to come together as a department and that it made everybody think along similar lines and really look at how they interact with the students. A number of members of staff highlighted how valuable it was for the entire class team to be able to take part in the whole journey, working together, thinking together and sharing ideas.
- Simplicity (less really is more) – many people touched on the simplicity of the sessions and how much they had engaged the students despite using minimal resources. They recognised that it’s not necessary to spend a fortune on resources or plan multiple activities for one session in order to engage the students. Staff could see how stripping activities and resources back to a minimum allowed greater focus and concentration from the students as well as freeing staff to be able to observe more and respond in more meaningful ways.
- Communication – many members of staff commented on the quality of communication from and with the students which was enabled by the sessions. Staff felt that the students were given more space to communicate both with staff and also with each other. Staff highlighted the value of seeing everything a student does as potential communication which has allowed them to explore different means of interaction and made them realise that students are communicating a lot more than they, the staff, had previously realised.
- Observation, attention and meaningful interaction – one member of staff reported that the project has enabled her and her team to see the students in a different way. They observed unexpected and unusual reactions from students during contact sessions which they could then replicate in the classroom using the techniques that had been demonstrated. This confirmed that the students’ reactions weren’t “flukes” caused by novel situations but that they came about through applying the theories and approaches demonstrated during the project. Staff in general felt that they are seeing a lot more from their students but that they’re also attuned to observing a lot more and are able to build more meaningful interactions as a result.
- Freedom and confidence – a number of people reported that they now feel more confident about applying a Less is More approach their day-to-day work with students. The consultancy sessions provided a safe space to explore ideas and experiment with different practical techniques and behavioural or linguistic strategies. The breakout discussions provided a safe space to explore the thinking behind the methodology and to share ideas. One member of staff reported that she now felt comfortable allowing students extra time to learn in a way that’s appropriate to them and also said that she would have been embarrassed to explore vocal and behaviour matching in the past but that it comes naturally now. Another member of staff said that experience had been very freeing – she saw that it was okay to give students the time they need to explore on their own terms and that, in standing back herself, she was actually getting a lot more back from the students.
- Relevance – a few people observed that the training provided during Less is More has been entirely appropriate and relevant to the PMLD students with whom they work. A number of members of staff reported that training often has a very broad sweep which might be useful across the school in general but isn’t particularly applicable to the PMLD learning environment. One of the major benefits of this training has been the opportunity to work in a very hands-on way with the students that staff are with every day – this is felt to be far more relevant than theory-based training that takes place away from the school environment. Everything that has been covered in Less is More is relevant to the day-to-day PMLD learning environment.
- Benefits for students – a number of members of staff commented that they had seen tangible benefits for their students during the project. One staff member described a student, who had been reluctant to get involved in anything at the beginning of the year, now wants to be first in everything and bangs his tray to get attention or if he wants something. Other members of staff reported more communication from their students (and more observation of communication on the part of staff). People commented that they’ve observed a greater level of engagement and focus from students and a couple of people also reported that their students are more “aware” or have been “awakened” by the process.
- Value for money – one final aspect of the project that was highlighted was its value money. Debbie, the Head Teacher, pointed out that training 25 members of staff is both expensive and logistically difficult to manage if the training takes place away from school. The way Less is More was structured, and the willingness on the part of staff to look after each other’s students, meant that the project has represented exceptional value for money. It would cost over £60,000 to give 25 members of staff 10 days training and this project cost a little over £10,000 – a saving of around £50,000.
“I have really enjoyed the whole Bamboozle experience, as a class we have tried to adopt lots of the ideas and techniques. We have embraced the theories of Less is More and use it throughout the day in a range of different situations and lessons. We have seen some great things from the students as a result of the company led sessions and our own sessions. I have enjoyed being given new ways of looking at topics and re-inventing some old ideas into new and fun activities. Thank you for the brilliant experiences, I have learnt so much.” Class Teacher, Woodlands Secondary School.