#ASEchat – SEND special

Following the publication of my article in the ASE’s EiS (Education in Science) magazine and on their website, I was offered the chance to host #ASEchat on Twitter with a special needs theme.

@viciascience opened with questions about specific needs which led to a discussion about visually impaired and hearing impaired students.  @cleverfiend raised the issue of specialist vocabulary and @viciascience promoted an event in Huddersfield on 21st Nov.

@DrWilksinsonSci said he gave out slips of paper for everyone to answer same question on, then some were picked to critique as a group, and the rest were checked by teacher later for misconceptions.

@cleverfiend asked if it was teaching SEN students that teachers struggle with or having to teach them within a larger mixed ability group.  @viciascience reminded us that their diverse needs could be hard to meet, especially when some are very demanding of attention.  Photography was suggested as a useful strategy and @cleverfiend added video, and with tablets tools like comic strips become a powerful tool.   ComicLife and HalfTone were suggested as good comic strip apps.

@A_Weatherall recommended a comic book about the universe which he had used with students http://www.jldunbar.com/home/the-universe-verse

Kinaesthetic activities and practical activities were recommended by chat participants, for example modelling solubility with rice and peas.

Talking Tom was suggested as a good app to encourage reluctant or EAL students to speak in class.

Graphing was a problem, especially where maths ability lags behind science ability. @cleverfiend suggested checking out the old Science Year CDs from the ASE and advice from Anne Goldsworthy.  @ViciaScience suggested the AKSIS materials from the ASE for good advice on scaling etc.  IanMcDaid suggested gingham tablecloths and dry wipe markers.


SEN students and GCSE – how we achieved success

As a special school teacher I’ve taught GCSE before but changed to BTEC for many years, thinking the assessment suited our learners.  Recent changes including higher targets, variable attendance and a change in the performance tables all contributed to a move to GCSE.

I moved to teaching AQA Core A GCSE, and to do this I wrote all my own resources and ran the whole course without a textbook or a technician.

I did have some support with coursework from within the academy trust, marking their ISAs alongside experienced staff which meant my coursework marks weren’t adjusted.  I was expecting the coursework to drag my overall marks up but progress over the last six months meant the opposite was true.

As a result of this progress most of my students were well over target (upper quartile of progression guidance for those familiar with the terminology) and the estimated grades from my final tracking window were fairly accurate so what were my secrets? How did my students pull it off?

My first tip is to know your students.  I had secure KS3 data as a starting point (as I taught the students myself) and my targets were set in line with the upper quartile of progression guidance (aspirational!)  Every lesson I wrote my levelled learning outcomes with grades pitched from G to C and marked books with reference to these grades so that students could see every week where they were. Marking includes development points and students have an opportunity to respond to marking at the start of a lesson.

Exam questions should be slipped in to teaching lessons as well as revision lessons.  Educake provides a less intimidating way of testing what students know and is extremely responsive to suggestions for improvements.  My students would engage with this online system when they were tired and not in the mood for written questions.  Real exam questions are a valuable resource and I use the ExamPro database of questions to use in my teaching so students can learn tricks like counting the number of marks and making sure they give the information that the question asks for.

Practical work is an important tool that you have to boost comprehension, and one of the skills of the good science teacher is knowing when practical work is appropriate and when the practical work should be a demonstration or classwork.  My experience shows that SEN students benefit from the way practical activities can help them understand and link concepts, and it aids retention of information.

Discussion – don’t be afraid to go off topic from time to time.  My year 11 students were experts at asking me questions that took us well off topic, but they were engaged and interested in science.  I might not have the same depth of science knowledge as an A-level teacher but my knowledge is broad and related to every-day life.  My students enjoy science and lessons are engaging meaning all take part to the best of their abilities.

Mock exams.  Mentioning mock exams is like teaching your grandmother to suck eggs but they are useful for highlighting gaps and misconceptions.  Having smaller groups meant that many of my students sat their mock with me as the scribe, and I had a fairly good idea of what they were capable of.

Plan your revision.  Don’t assume that students will revise or even know how to revise.  We planned to have finished the content several weeks before the exam.  The first phase of the revision was to revisit the most difficult concepts, the second phase was to move on to past papers.  We follow the route with separate papers for physics, chemistry and biology which makes it easy to chunk revision and you can revise right up to the exam.

At the end of the day good teaching is good teaching.  You plan what you want students to learn and you then plan activities to make sure they learn.   In the past I have shared my resources on the TES and on this site for others to use.  Unfortunately I don’t have the time to keep this updated as my teaching resources are constantly evolving and being improved.  Weeding out resources where I have grabbed copyrighted resources off the internet or out of a textbook would remove key activities and the remaining material wouldn’t make much sense.  If you have a Google or Microsoft account I may be able to share a live (read-only) copy of my resources with you – use the contact option to get in touch if this interests you.

Many of the strategies I’ve used work for me because of my setting and the smaller group size, but I see no reason why most of them couldn’t be used in a mainstream school.

If you want to know more about SEN and science, join #ASEchat on Monday 28th September 2015 when I’ll be hosting the online chat on Twitter.

Science APP (Assessing Pupil Progress) at KS3 with pupils who have special needs.

I’ve been grappling with APP for a while now and thought I’d post, thinking that I might perhaps save someone some time.  Better still perhaps someone will have better ideas than mine – if that’s you please leave a comment below.

I’ve heard many science teachers complaining about APP.  True it is yet another new initiative and true its effectiveness has yet to be determined, but it does have the potential to improve Science assessment across our schools.

Why APP?

  • Provide a clear assessment system linked to the new framework/KS3 curriculum
  • Students should know where they are and where they are going (Assessment for Learning)
  • Teachers can plan for progression and know how a student is doing
  • Schools can confidently track attainment of groups of pupils
  • APP is not about assessing pupils and doing nothing with the data.  APP is not intended to be a summative assessment tool.

Remember APP is not statutory.  You can’t do it wrong – whatever works for you is fine.

I used to use the PIVATS assessment criteria for assessing the How Science Works strand, but had increasingly found it a poor match for the new science framework.  This meant that I had to give APP a good try.

How I implemented APP with my students
I took the APP threads which had been created by Eastwood School and I added some level 1 & 2 statements from the draft copy of the Primary Science APP.  (Eastwood school broke the APP strands into sub-strands or threads which make it easier to see the progression between levels)

I decided to create discrete APP activities to use in class.  This seemed a much easier way to collect data than flicking through pupils’ books with an APP chart next to me.  It also provided a meaningful way for pupils to see the progression between levels.  I follow (loosely) the ASE’s Wikid scheme of work which has a strong how science works theme (since it was written to reflect the release version of the Science framework).  Wikid science is full of opportunities to create APP activities (I’ve uploaded some of my APP activities – follow the teaching resources link at the top of the page).

My students (as special school pupils) tend to have lower than average literacy/numeracy levels and so activities need to provide a way for students to express their science skills without being held back.

Pitfalls of the APP system (compared to what we had before).
APP does not measure sub-levels.  Statements within a level are not intended to be hierarchical but not all the statements within a level are of equal challenge.  I score pupils as a weak, straight or strong level which gives three sub-levels, averaging these scores gives a wider range of sub-levels.

I also created a level ladder (replacing PIVATS statements with APP criteria of comparable difficulty) to use when marking books, and to display on the wall.  I intended this to support our school policy of target setting for pupil IEPs.  I’m not sure how useful this is yet, but I’ve uploaded it to my resources site.

Assessment at KS4. The expectation is that students are assessed using examination criteria at KS4. How well this works depends on the course you are running.   Modular science courses (we’ve run Entry Level, BTEC Introductory and GCSE) provide feedback to students as end of unit marks, but it’s easy to lose track of progression, especially for pupils who make small steps of progress.

Any science APP only records progress against a narrow range of criteria. How do you record a pupil who suddenly answers questions in class, or a student who might independently have started collecting their own equipment.  Special schools tend to focus on life skills and social skills within all curriculum areas.

What about the other three attainment targets for Science?  We currently have no idea of how we will be expected to report in 2011, and what the weightings for the attainment targets will be.  I would expect there to be a significant weighting to the how science works skills giving the investment in APP, but there is still likely to be variation in quality of assessment of the range and content.  Current advice is to continue assessing range and content in the same way you have always done since you will be expected to report back on these at the end of the key stage.

Where next?
I came up with the idea of developing a feel for each level, characterised by the key words and phrases from each level.  To create this idea of ‘levelness’ I used the Wordle Site and entered APP criteria to create a Wordle for each national curriculum level.  If nothing else they look good displayed on the wall!

Summary of current assessment practice @ KS3

  • APP task for each  topic (with a need to improve the quality of tasks for pupils performing below level 3)
  • Level ladder to be used to set targets for students’ IEPs in line with whole school policy.
  • PIVATS document used alongside for target setting and tracking purposes for range and content.  Some end of unit tests (from Testbase) and level assessed tasks used to support teacher assessment.
  • Optional SATs for Y9 pupils to verify teacher assessment

How does this compare to your school?  Feel free to leave a comment below.

Click on the APP tag to the right to read my other posts about APP