Should our children need an Indian Summer School?

I’ve recently watched Channel 4’s Indian Summer School  and I have to say I was touched by the wonderful teachers and their dedication and care for the new British students.  I was particularly impressed with the English teacher who was clearly impressed by the one of the students approach to learning and stated he needed, “Self belief, assurance and a taste of success.” She continued to say that students require ‘continued positive support’.

This made me reflect on my practice as a teacher and the message I communicate through CodeBreakers programme.

When we work with students who have had a negative experience of education it is so important for us to nurture them and build their confidence.

I’ve been working with a student for many weeks now and initially it was very difficult to get him to engage in the work which we do in his sessions, as he had a built in fear that he would not be successful with an literacy tasks.  The only way I could engage him was through a game of football, where I asked him to sound out the words.  We had many stressful weeks for both him and I. I questioned if I was pushing him to hard or had I missed a diagnosis of something other than dyslexia.  The only thing I could ask him to do each week was ask him to trust me that I wouldn’t present him with any surprises and that we would go at his pace.  Asking a 10 year old to trust a teacher who was presenting  him with his worst fear, was probably a big ask on reflection!  Slowly the confidence came.  This week it’s Easter holidays and the  mere mention of him attending a session when he would rather be out playing football would have resulted in a meltdown in the past.  This week and for the last few weeks he’s ran into the lesson, with a smiling face, needed no coercion and bribery to complete a task.  We’ve got to a  fantastic point where he moved on from his default position of guessing at words when reading and resulting in frustration when he can’t guess a word.  He’s learning that his audio difficulties mean he can’t pick up all the information and he can now self advocate and say ‘wait’, say it again’ or he responds to being asked to stand still, to prepare to focus and listen to instructions or watch as I speak a word, to enable him to tune in and listen to sounds correctly.  The approach to learning and his own self confidence is blossoming.

More recently I’ve started to work with a student with ASD and PDA (Pathological Demand Avoidance).  He’s very use to school scribing for him and can very easily want to give up on a task as soon as he starts to feel challenged.  It’s hard to know at times if this is PDA or fear of failure on a task.  This week, he was again met with a task he was able to complete until the last 2-3 items and as soon as he was met with an question he was not sure of, he wanted to give up.  Having worked with students with PDA before, it is at this point a tutor needs to make a careful judgement how best to proceed, to ensure the best outcome.

Having already agreed with the parents they wished me to push for a little more in these situations and they would voice if they felt anxiety levels had increased, I decided to continue the task with increased support and guidance. Very quickly the student re-engaged and he was able to complete the task.  Sometimes it is important to to support the student to complete the task. later they can reflect of the positive outcome and ‘taste the success’.  Students can build their trust in the teacher and slowly develop self belief, using the skills to approach future tasks.

In the Channel 4 programme the Headteacher made  valid point that at times the student’s may have made the wrong decisions and they do need to take responsibility for their actions. However within a week 50% of the British students were enjoying the environment and positive attitude of their peers, toward learning. We know in our schools that students have challenging ‘behaviour’.  I now use the word ‘behaviour’ uncomfortably as I believe it’s about communication/anxiety and the fear of failure. It can be hard to engage the student who present with this ‘behaviour’ and I am the first to say I have the luxury of working 1:1 with students.  However min my view students can be engaged if we diagnose early and government invests in providing relevant support in both the form of intervention and staffing levels.  All our children deserve a positive outcome from education and the opportunity to shine.