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Approaching Children with Special Educational Needs in Primary ELT by Vera Savic

Ms Vera Savic has been teaching ESP at the Faculty of Education in Jagodina, University of Kragujevac. She is a national teacher trainer for secondary teachers of English and enthusiastic presenter at in-service teacher training seminars and conferences in the country and abroad. As an ELTA Board member and ELTA Regional Coordinator she has been very active in writing project proposals for ELT professional development seminars and organising ELT mentorship seminars for regional EL teachers at the Faculty of Education in Jagodina, successfully combining her academic activities with wider professional interests. Being a coordinator in several projects of international academic cooperation (like the Finnish-Serbian STEP Project and TEMPUS Project), Ms Savic has fervently supported curriculum development in teacher education, drawing much of her professional inspiration from study tours abroad and exchange of experience with other teachers.

The picture shows an inclusive class in a Helsinki primary school where refugee and immigrant children are given extra classes in Finnish (taken by Vera Savic, March 2005) Introduction Introduction of English as a foreign language into the first grade primary curriculum in Serbia poses a special challenge for teachers of English in many aspects, the biggest being related to teaching children with special educational needs who attend regular classes, but are still not fully involved in the formal inclusion programme. Teachers of English do not usually get adequate preparation for teaching children with special educational needs, and consequently lack knowledge and skills regarding their impairments and disorders and teaching strategies that are to be applied in order to help their academic and non-academic development (guaranteed both by the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and Law on Basic Education of the Republic of Serbia). The

main objective of the paper is to draw attention to the existing problem of inclusion of children with SEN into primary ELT and thus raise awareness of the support needed by primary English language teachers in Serbia. Children with SEN and Primary EL Classes In regular primary classes, class teachers are responsible for education of all pupils. To secure their proper education, class teachers have to meet all diversity of childrens individual needs. This demand also relates to pupils with special educational needs (SEN for short) and class teachers are prepared for the task through the academic course of Special/Inclusive Education in their initial training. In Serbia this course is compulsory in initial teacher education at teacher education faculties1. Teachers of English, however, do not get necessary knowledge and skills to teach pupils with SEN, either in the course of their pre-service or in-service training. They enter primary classes starting with grade one and are faced with big diversity of childrens needs and potentials, the biggest challenge being children who have learning problems due to disabilities or impairments. In contrast to class teachers, English language teachers have to cope with the challenge completely unprepared. Although they share class teachers responsibilities only within their specific subject English as a foreign language, taught with two classes a week in lower grades of primary school - they need adequate preparation in order to be able to provide conditions for successful learning for all. Meeting the needs of children with SEN requires a lot of commitment, energy, professional knowledge and skills of teachers. Not only do English language teachers need specific knowledge and skills to accomplish this important task, but the crucial prerequisite for the success in the EL classroom is their cooperation with class teachers, specialists in school or local community, and parents. Is this the case in our schools? Is such cooperation a common practice? Who makes teams and arranges meetings of all individuals responsible for preparing conditions that all children enjoy their right to proper education? Who really helps an English language teacher to manage classes with one or a few children with special educational needs? What about village schools? How do EL teachers, especially the novices in the profession with limited experience, secure learning and development of children with special educational needs in their classes? These questions cannot be answered without an extensive research. The pioneer work has already been done by the Faculty of Philosophy in Belgrade, Institute for Psychology2, but pre-service or in-service courses of special/inclusive education have not yet started for teachers of English. Only children with moderate or severe hearing/speech/visual/physical/mental impairments are placed in special schools or special classes (usually in urban areas) in Serbia. Other children with special educational needs attend regular classes and follow primary curriculum together with their classmates. Placing them in ordinary classes gives these children great opportunities for learning and development, but only if they are properly supported. In order for their needs to be met, the school must fit the child in several ways: adapting the curriculum and preparing individual education plan for each child with SEN, giving teachers opportunities to develop adequate competences, teaching

methodology and strategies, to create motivating environment and a new system of values that ensures respect for diversity in the classroom, cooperation, empathy, understanding and readiness to help children with SEN. Cooperation of teachers of English with the class teacher, specialists and parents is crucial.

The picture shows a class in a Ljubljana primary school, where all children are encouraged to participate in teaching/learning activities (taken by Vera Savic, Nov. 2005)

Who Are Children with SEN? All children are special, some more than the others they are children with special needs. No two children are the same (Understanding and Responding to Children's Needs in Inclusive Classrooms, a Guide for Teachers, 2001: 7). Indeed, children differ from one another in many aspects, both physically and in personality, intellectual abilities, learning styles, interests, social and economic status of their families, preparation for school. In school, some are noisy and active, others are quiet and slow, some like singing and playing, others prefer reading and drawing. Furthermore, some children may be born with impairments, like poor eyesight or hearing, deformity of arms or legs, or brain that is not developing in a typical way; others may suffer because their development and growth are impaired by the harmful effects of the environment (not enough food, bad housing, frequent illnesses, divorced parents, war or refugee experiences). There are also children who come from socially and culturally deprived communities, marginal social groups, or suffer from famine. Still, all children can learn! And all children have the right to learn. Although their learning potentials can differ and some of them may need more help and support than the others, teachers should build on their individual learning abilities. However, these abilities should first be assessed and then addressed. We as teachers should respect the need for equality of opportunity in education. It is guaranteed both by the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and the Serbian legislation on basic education. Article 23 of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child of 1989 states that

Recognising the special needs of a disabled child, assistance shall be provided to insure that the disabled child has effective access to and receives education .. conductive to the child achieving the fullest possible social integration and individual development (ibid: 29) Article 2, Paragraph 5, of the Law on Basic Education of the Republic of Serbia of 2003 states that children with special educational needs have equal opportunities in education. Special needs only means that these children need extra help and support because of a particular impairment or disability. When that happens within regular classes and teachers adapt their teaching strategies to answer the diversity of needs of all pupils, including also children with special educational needs, we can speak about inclusion. Inclusion and participation are essential to human dignity and to the enjoyment and exercise of human rights stated the Salamanca conference in 1994 (Brusling & Pepin, 2003: 198). Within inclusive education learning opportunities for children with special needs are increased through interaction with other children and they benefit from participation in school life. Inclusive education as a concept can be understood in its wider sense to include all children who experience difficulties in learning, either temporarily or permanently. Poor instruction, then, can be a big obstacle to successful inclusive education and thus endanger the childs right to proper education. The first step towards inclusive EL classroom is assessment of childs functional abilities, both impaired and kept, which is done by specialists. Then, the childs family circumstances and wider community should be determined. Only then can plans be made for building on the childs abilities and facilitating his/her learning and development. Teachers of English should be aware of development disorders and impairments and their warning signs, so that they can recognize childs special educational needs. Development impairments and disabilities fall into several categories: sensory impairments (physical, visual, hearing), intellectual impairments (cognitive, concentration, difficulties in reading, writing, speaking), childhood illnesses, social and emotional disorders leading to behaviour disorders (hyperactivity, hypoactivity, distractability), and combined disorders. Attention deficit/hyperactivity disorders (AD/HD) underlie hyperactive behaviour and result in learning difficulties: slower learning pace, low motivation, lack of confidence and low selfesteem. They may also be produced by childhood illnesses or by social reasons. Emotional and social disorders are the most common disorders in Serbian schools (kola po meri deteta, 2004: 23) and teachers of English should be ready to cope with them and help children overcome their learning difficulties. EL Teachers Role in Inclusive Education Teachers of English are key factors to developing inclusive culture and practices in EL classes. EL teachers understanding is shaped by knowing current theories of language learning social-constructivist model that sees children constructing their understandings from the social interaction of their learning contexts, interactive aspect being crucial in learning a foreign language (Brewster et al, 2004: 19). Teachers understanding that children with special educational needs benefit from being educated within mainstream education both academically and non-academically - by participating fully in the life of their community, growing into their culture and absorbing its values - is essential for developing

SEN childrens sense of identity and belonging (Understanding and Responding to Children's Needs in Inclusive Classrooms, a Guide for Teachers, 2001: 30). Besides positive attitude of EL teacher to child with SEN, successful inclusive practice also depends on the following factors:

applying appropriate teaching methodology using appropriate teaching material having extra time for individual work with the child acquiring specific knowledge, skills and experience in dealing with diversity in class adapting the curriculum drawing up individual learning plan for each child with SEN (Inclusive Education and Classroom Practices, Summary Report, 2003) .

Teachers should try to apply strategies that will help meet the needs of children with SEN and reduce learning difficulties as well as behaviour, social or emotional problems. Demotivated pupils with behaviour problems are the biggest challenge of primary classes (ibid). Research3 shows that there are effective practices that can be used in inclusive settings. They can also be regarded as effective teaching practices in EFL inclusive classes. These involve:

Cooperative teaching involves cooperation of EL teacher with colleagues, like class teacher, school principal, inclusion specialist, health therapist, and with parents, all belonging to a team responsible for the childs development. They collaborate in solving particular problems related to the childs development. In some countries (like Finland) there is a teaching assistant who helps children with SEN and supports teacher in the classroom. Cooperative learning all children benefit from cooperative learning, teamwork and peer tutoring, both cognitively and affectively (socially and emotionally). Positive interdependence in cooperative learning allows each group member to contribute with own strength to the final outcome of the learning activity. Child with SEN can learn from his peers and follow their performance as a model. Heterogeneous grouping it is very effective in classes with big diversity of childrens abilities and supports cooperative learning. Children with SEN develop cognitive and social skills, while other members of the group learn to accept and respect the child with SEN. However, in language teaching, it is sometimes more useful to make homogeneous groups, some of them consisting of children who experience similar learning difficulties, so that teacher can give them extra help. In such cases, teachers should give differentiated tasks to particular groups, making them challenging enough for particular abilities.

Individual educational plan it is a pedagogical and development plan drawn up for each child with SEN by adapting the curriculum in conformity with the childs abilities and needs. New learning objectives are identified on the basis of childs performance in classes. These objectives should not be too difficult to discourage the child, but they should not be too easy, either, as the child needs to be

challenged to learn new skills. The plan comprises all information necessary to follow the childs progress, and EL teacher draws it up in cooperation with other members of the team responsible for the childs inclusion. Parents play a very important role in supporting the childs development in many ways, one of them being active participation in the team preparing individual educational plan for the child.

The pictures show cooperative activities in an English class in a Helsinki primary school; student teacher is co-teaching with the English language teacher and giving individual support to children (taken by Vera Savic, March 2005)

Effective classroom activities in inclusive EL classes Children learn a foreign language by being exposed to it, by making associations between words and sentence patterns, putting them into clear context, exploring, experimenting, making mistakes, checking their understanding, observing, copying, watching, doing things, listening, repeating, etc. (Shipton et al, 2006). Feeling a sense of confidence improves childs motivation. There is poor learning if the child is feeling uncomfortable, under pressure, confused by abstract concepts of grammar rules and their application which he/she cannot understand, distracted or bored, or finds it hard to concentrate while doing some longer activities (Shipton et al, 2006). Every learner is unique and has own learning style that is affected by his/her personality factors. Learning style or individual preferences in childs learning result from his/her dominant intelligence: visual learners prefer using pictures and reading; auditory learners like listening to explanations and reading aloud; kinesthetic learners need physical activity to help them learn; interpersonal learners are sociable and eager to use

language for communication; intrapersonal learners are quiet and reflective and learn by listening and observing. Teachers task is to provide a variety in the activities as carefully structured input and practice opportunities, catering for different learning styles. However, when teaching a child with SEN, knowing his/her learning style is not enough to secure his/her successful learning in EL classroom. Teacher should also consider childs abilities and his learning difficulties, like short concentration span and slower learning pace that may easily demotivate the child in learning a foreign language. Teacher can help the child by letting him/her practise a particular language structure by repeating it as many times as needed (in well-structured exercise), being very patient and not interrupting the child, but encouraging him/her, praising his/her effort and building the childs confidence. Instead of correcting the child, teacher should model the correct form, or allow the child to shadow the recorded text. Foreign language learning in lower grades primary classes involves a big variety of activities, like drawing, singing, acting, miming, speaking, reading, or writing, that can be done individually, in pairs or groups. Acting is very useful in practising a foreign language because it integrates different skills and gives children opportunities to learn by doing and being physically active. Child with SEN can enjoy the activity as much as his classmates, but may require more help due to speaking or memorizing difficulties; teacher should provide recorded text to help the child while acting his/her role. Drawings and written works of the child with SEN should be regularly displayed on the wall with other works. In that way teacher with strengthen the childs confidence and motivation for language learning. Competitive activities should be avoided; instead, cooperation should be encouraged and frequently applied through pair and group work, giving the child with SEN opportunities to interact with peers. Conclusion Inclusive EL classroom is the one where teacher creates the context in which all the learners feel valuable and have opportunities and confidence to try, where both linguistic and non-linguistic skills are valued and everyone can contribute even with the smallest contribution. Successful teacher of English makes his classroom inclusive for all pupils. He views a child with SEN as a person, not considering only the childs particular impairment. He/she humanizes own teaching by respecting diversity and giving a model to his pupils for accepting the child with SEN. He/she emphasizes every childs strength in using English for communication and stresses positive human qualities and values. Teachers attitudes and beliefs are critical to successful inclusion. Equally important are teachers competences to adapt his/her teaching to children with SEN or children who experience learning difficulties and to help them develop both their academic and nonacademic potential. In-service professional development in the field of teaching children with SEN can give EL teachers necessary knowledge and skills and secure proper education for all in Serbian primary schools.

References Brewster, J, Ellis, G. & Girard, D. (2004) The Primary English Teachers Guide. Pearson Education Limited, Harlow. Brusling, C. & Pepin, B. (2003) Inclusion in Schools: who is in need of what? European Educational Research Journal, Volume 2, Number 2. European Agency for Development in Special Needs Education i EURYDICE (2003) Inclusive Education and Classroom Practices, Summary Report Retrieved from: www.european.agency.org European Agency for Development in Special Needs Education i EURYDICE (2003) Special Needs Education in Europe Retrieved from: www.european.agency.org Institut za psihologiju Filozofskog fakulteta i Save the Children UK, Kancelarija u Beogradu (2004): kola po meri deteta prirunik za rad sa uenicima redovne kole ometenim u razvoju. Institut za Psihologiju, Beograd. McLaughlin, M. & Ruedel, K. (2005) Educating Children with Disabilities: Who Are the Children with Disabilities? EQUIP2 Issues Brief Norris, L. (2002) Two Languages Too: Second Language Learning and Children with Special Needs. Retrieved from: www.cal.org.ericcll/releaseform.html Rose, J. ( 2006) Mixed Ability an inclusive classroom. English Teaching Professional Shipton, I, Mackenzie, A. & Shipton, J. (2006) The child as a learner. British Council. Retrieved from: http://teachingenglish.mtk1.com UNESCO (2001) Understanding and Responding to Children's Needs in Inclusive Classrooms, a Guide for Teachers Retrieved from http://unesdoc.unesco.org/images/0012/001243/124394e.pdf