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Excellent teaching for pupils with SEND is excellent teaching for all

Tanja Albert, deputy learning support manager, and Alice Hagger, deputy head of English, Ricards Lodge High School, explain the formative assessment techniques that have worked well with all students, including those with SEND

By definition, SSAT’s Embedding Formative Assessment (EFA) programme includes all students, and there shouldn’t be any need to differentiate between students with or without SEND in terms of the principles. The only difference, essentially, is the type of tools each teacher uses. So, the critical question teachers need to ask themselves is: how can the programme be applied to meet the needs of all students and modified when working with SEND students?

Among the methods we at Ricards Lodge have considered and use frequently are ‘traffic lights’, concept lists, waiting time, entrance tickets, no-hands/lollipop/bouncing ball/random name selector, pair and share peer assessment and other questioning strategies. These have shown many positive results in the school.

Increase in confidence

Some SEND learners tend to be hesitant about new experiences, as their emotional response at times can be negative due to fear they would not get it right. To alleviate this, Ricards Lodge is helping students manage their emotions through the help of the EFA technique, ‘traffic lights’, which can put them at ease and show them that other students go through a similar process.

At times SEND students think they are the only ones feeling challenged by a task. With this in mind, the technique where learners hold a card up gives them confidence, as they can see what their peers are doing. However, we have had SEND students who would always be the last to put up their ‘traffic light colour’, their ‘true/false’ card, or their ‘yes/no’ card, first secretly checking what other students’ answers were. The same students are now often the first to hold their card up and don’t think twice. They have realised that the process of assessing their own learning is not just helping the teacher to steer the teaching into the right direction, but benefiting their learning journey.

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Low-stake quizzing, across both KS3 and KS4, allows us to assess understanding of new knowledge without the class feeling intimidated or tested. In KS3, this could be in the form of a hangman plenary, where we can see which new vocabulary is being confidently used and spelt correctly.

More engagement of all students

When introducing no-hands/lollipop/bouncing ball/random name selector with students, we always combine it with ‘phone a friend’ to reduce any fear of exposure. The students know they are expected to agree or disagree and where possible explain their answers. The ‘phone a friend’ option is vital for SEND students to ensure they do not feel exposed.

Any of these techniques once fully established work really well with students with ADHD or ASD, as the rules are clear – and equally support someone who always wants to lead the conversation and someone who always opts out.

Particular examples we use in English include ‘composite answers’ and model paragraphs created by the entire class. Students attempt a paragraph alone, as a draft, while the teacher reiterates that this is their ‘rehearsal’ and can be improved. By randomly choosing who contributes each part of the class essay, they know they need to be prepared and active learners. It also allows them to build on each other’s responses, creating a positive and collaborative environment rather than being faced with an imposing, pre-written teacher exemplar.

More collaboration between students

Collaboration can be difficult for some SEND students due to their social communication needs. EFA techniques like pair and share, concept lists or success criteria have helped, as they have a clear focus and are task-driven, enabling students to interact without the pressure of finding a specific role or thinking about social conventions too much. This can work really well: one student with ASD who always opted out of working with others is now often leading in peer assessment situations, asking questions and leading back to her partners.

Teacher-style marking also allows students to practise applying the mark scheme to a peer’s work, while at the same time being exposed to that work. Given a success criterion, students emulate a teacher’s marking in the margins, clearly communicating their feedback and suggestions for improvement.

TAs help increase independence

The ultimate goal for all students, which is especially challenging for some SEND students, is to be an independent learner. To avoid over-reliance on adults and improve independent learning skills in SEND learners, Ricards Lodge TAs follow EEF’s guidance on making best use of TAs to scaffold pupils’ learning and encourage independent learning.

EFA techniques such as waiting time and questioning are also crucial to the scaffolding process and are consistently used by all TAs. TAs are fully embedded in the assessment for learning process in the classroom and can feed back to the teacher at all points in the lesson.

Finally, to aid students’ understanding of how to improve we use the ‘concept list’ approach, such as an examiner report after exams. Teachers will read through whole-class issues, alongside individual strengths and weaknesses. Students then attempt an example and the teacher highlights where their answers have met the requirement or improved on a previous area of weakness.

Learn more about the Embedding Formative Assessment programme, designed in collaboration with Dylan Wiliam and Siobhan Leahy, which helps to embed formative assessment strategies in your school and is proven to positively impact on your students’ outcomes..

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