1. Literature Review
2. Research Design
3. Data Analysis
All teachers face the challenge of making sure every pupil has the same access to education by adapting their teaching to suit different needs, known as inclusion. Kyriacou (2014, p.75) defines inclusive teaching as organising teaching and learning to ‘cater for pupils with a broad range of abilities and needs.’ Gedge (2016, p.32) refers specifically to pupils with a special educational need or disability (SEND) when considering inclusion and, although the focus of this study is SEND, it is important to note that inclusion refers to all pupils. As Holmes (1994, p.4) said: ‘no learner is the same as any other’. Inclusion is not the same as differentiation, which refers to the methods employed by a teacher to make the learning accessible to all (Kyriacou, 2014, pp.74-75), although this term is still significant in relation to making teaching inclusive.
This study aimed to find out how inclusion works in practice. I focused on Modern Language (ML) teaching and carried out a case study of two Year nine pupils with Asperger’s Syndrome, a condition within the wider range of Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD), in an 11-19 mixed comprehensive. I looked at how changes to teaching and the classroom environment affected their learning over six one-hour lessons. I will consider views from a range of literature on the subject and use several methods of data collection to analyse the results and conclude whether the teaching had an impact. I will then explore these findings in relation to my future practice.
1. Literature Review
The literature refers to both SEN and SEND. I use the latter, following the example of The Department for Education (DfE) (2015, pp.15-16), who define a young person as having a special educational need or disability (SEND) if he or she: ‘has a significantly greater difficulty in learning than the majority of others of the same age, or has a disability which prevents or hinders him or her from making use of facilities of a kind generally provided for others of the same age in mainstream schools’. This means that the school, and the various class teachers, need to provide something different or additional for these pupils for them to have the same access to education as their peers. For many this constitutes a challenge, as there are many types of SEND and thus many methodologies for teaching these pupils (Pachler et al, 2014, p.322).
Progress is important for all pupils but may look very different in each case; inclusive teaching requires all progress to be recognised. Pachler et al (2014, p.323) agree that: ‘‘small’ steps of progress made by pupils with SEN deserve equal praise as the ‘bigger’ steps of progress made by pupils without SEN’. This is not, however, always true in practice. Schools are often concerned with traditional methods of recording progress, such as results and league tables (McKeown, 2004, p.9) which can lead them to withdraw pupils with an SEND from certain subjects and allow them to focus on so-called ‘core’ subjects like English and Maths, in an attempt to improve results.
Unfortunately, this regularly affects ML teaching, as it is ‘somehow seen as a luxury’ (p.8), something that can be removed from the curriculum without adverse effect. Some educators are under the impression that second language learning is in fact detrimental to the first, when the opposite could be true. Smith and Conti (2016, p.159) state that ‘learning another language helps children to become more aware of their own’ and stress that ‘all but a very few’ benefit from language learning, so long as the teaching methods are appropriate for the individual.
I will look at some teaching methods appropriate to my own study after a short exploration of the relevant literature on Asperger’s and ASD. I will be using terms such as ‘pupil with Asperger’s/ASD’, as labelling someone as ‘autistic’ can be problematic. (Murray, 2012, p.xiv) agrees that the term ‘autistic person’ is demeaning, because it suggests that the individual concerned is defined by their autism. He goes on to claim, however, that ‘person with autism’ is not perfect, as it suggests that autism may be removed or cured in some way. McKeown (2004, p.3) goes further when she disagrees with the use of any label, as this leads to a situation where ‘the special need becomes the focus of attention’ and we fail to concentrate on the needs of the individual pupils. Nevertheless, naming the SEND in this study helped to identify the specific needs of the pupils concerned and focus on adapting to meet them.
Asperger’s is placed at the ‘able’ or ‘high-functioning’ end of the autistic spectrum, which means that people with Asperger’s may have less severe impairments but still have much in common with others who have a different form of ASD (McKeown, 2004, p.22). These impairments fall into three categories: social interaction, social communication, and social imagination (p.24). All the above can cause difficulties for the pupils in a ML lesson, whether it’s understanding instructions, gestures, and facial cues, or being involved in a game, role play or paired conversation.
Pachler et al (2014, pp.323-326) suggest some methods for teaching which could apply to all pupils with an SEND, and work particularly well for those with ASD. Consistency in approach is a big factor, as a change in routine can be upsetting. This has department and even school-wide implications as the approach to instructions should be consistent throughout (Holmes, 1991, p.9). Daines, Fleming and Miller (2003, p.9) focus on consistency in language use, and add that ‘modification of language is an important element in differentiating activities in school for all pupils’. ASD comes under the SEND category ‘Communication and Interaction Needs’ (McKeown, 2004, p.15), thus modification of language and clarity and consistency of instructions are vital.
McKeown (2004, pp.22-24) notes that extra visual support is useful for pupils with ASD but Holmes (1991, p.2) counters that ‘visuals only work if everyone knows what they represent’ but with consistency and routine, visual support and clarity of presentation can make a real difference to a pupil’s comprehension of the material (Pachler et al, 2014, p.325). Written instructions to accompany verbal is a good example of this, though again should be implemented as a school-wide policy for greatest effect.
The most beneficial technique is at once the simplest and the most complex: being sensitive to individual needs. Homes (1991, p.9) suggests that this includes allowing pupils to sit out of activities which may make them uncomfortable. McKeown (2004, p.22-24) identifies writing as a particular difficulty for pupils with Asperger’s and ASD; it would be infeasible to eliminate all writing activities from ML lessons, but these could be reduced or differentiated by task or outcome (Kyriacou, 2014, p.75) so that pupils follow slightly altered tasks, or complete the same task to a different level.
I endeavoured to employ several methodologies from those stated above in an attempt to improve the learning experience for these pupils, keeping in mind the information I had gathered on their specific SEND.
2. Research Design
The method of research is a case study, as mentioned above. Bell with Waters (2014, p.275) define a case as: ‘a real-life situation that can be studied’ and note the benefit to individual researchers of being able to study a situation ‘in some depth’. Some might question the validity of a small-scale study and Bell with Waters (2014, p.275) point out the difficulty of cross-checking information from a study of a single event, but Cohen et al (2011, p.289) claim that a case study is beneficial in that it represents a real situation a reader can understand, as opposed to ‘abstract theories or principals’.
This study concerns meeting learners’ needs, specifically those with ASD. The nature of this research required a non-probability sample; I used purposive sampling to select participants ‘in relation to certain characteristics or traits’ (Burton, Brundrett & Jones, 2008, p.47). A purposive sample may not be representative of a population but the main benefit is again greater depth (Cohen et al, 2011, p.156), and the certainty that the traits one wishes to study are definitely present.
Regarding the ethics of my study, the nature of voluntary informed consent stated in the British Education Research Association (BERA) guidelines (2011, p.5) meant that I had to obtain permission to carry out the study, which I did (appendix seven). The guidelines also point out the dangers the dual role of teacher and researcher can pose (BERA, 2011, p.5), such as the importance of confidentiality. To protect this I made sure participants were anonymous. Cohen et al (2011, p.91) state that participants are considered anonymous when one ‘cannot identify the participant or subject from the information provided, which I used as a guide when writing up my research.
Before I implemented my chosen strategies, I collected data from other sources. The individual education plans (IEPs) (appendix two) are a form of documentary evidence: a record of an ‘event or process’ (Cohen et al, 2011, p.249). The IEPs were useful in that they set out the various needs of the pupils and methods that teachers could or should employ to meet them. Pachler et al (2014, p.321) agree that ‘subject teachers need to familiarise themselves with it [the IEP]’, as well as stating the importance of liaising with the special educational needs and disability coordinator (SENDCO), with whom I made sure to have a conversation. This took the form of an interview (appendix three), for which I made notes. Bell with Waters (2014, p.184) suggest audio- or video-recording to aid memory but I kept the interview brief so as not to place too much importance on it as a source, due to its high subjectivity and the possibility of bias (p.178).
Throughout the implementation stage I collected other data, alongside the documentary evidence and interview. Burton, Brundrett & Jones (2008, p.111) affirm that documents represent a ‘particular point in time’ rather than a more linear view; they offer a ‘baseline against which other sources can be compared and contrasted’ (p.112), therefore I thought it unnecessary to include a wealth of other documents, such as lesson plans, when there were other tools I could employ to cross-reference any findings. I chose to work with my own field notes, which risked bias but I continually questioned my practice to make sure I was as objective as possible, as Check and Schutt (2012, p.266) suggest. In addition, observation notes from the class teacher (appendix four) showed a different point of view. I asked that the observation focus on the clarity of my instructions and the efficacy of my visual aids. Bell with Waters (2014, p.187) warn that a structured observation like this can be subjective, as the focus has been decided rather than allowed to emerge. However, similar to the purposive sample, this focus was necessary to obtain information relevant to my study.
I chose to use these different methods of data collection to ensure my research contained sufficient triangulation. Check and Schutt (2012, p.267) suggest that the more data sources used, the more accurate a piece of research. Due to time constraints, I was not able to collect as much data as might be appropriate, but my use of different methods of collection still allowed me to cross-reference my findings. Bell with Waters (2014, p.187) agree: ‘wherever possible, triangulate’. In my data analysis, I look for all opportunities to back up an observation with multiple data sources.