School Leaders, Teachers

Supporting children without bursting bubbles!

As the Recovery Curriculum is implemented in schools, how can all students be supported within their ‘bubbles’, to ensure that they don’t get left behind? In the following blog post, Pamela Hanigan and Rachel Gelder, founders of Lancashire Dyslexia Information Guidance and Support (LDIGS), discuss how schools can build targeted interventions into classroom bubbles.

The troubling news headlines are a stark reminder that the coronavirus pandemic is far from over, and the top priority for schools is to keep everyone in their communities safe. To this end, much hard work and preparation has gone into organising one-way systems, deep cleans and adjustments to the school day.

One of the key safety measures in schools has been the introduction of bubbles to minimise contact between children and staff. But while class or year group bubbles may be effective at limiting the spread of infection, could they also be limiting teachers’ ability to support pupils with additional needs?

The hidden impact

In schools where learning interventions are delivered by a range of practitioners, small groups of pupils tend to work away from the classroom with a teaching assistant, teacher, SENDCo or another specialist.

But with school staff largely restricted to their bubbles, it could be difficult to take individual or small groups of pupils out for specific learning activities.

Teaching staff may find themselves having to stay put in one classroom and cater for the least able, the most able and those in between – all at the same time. There’s a risk that it will be harder to differentiate without the option of mixing between bubbles, and pupils of all abilities could miss out as a result.

That’s a worrying prospect at a time when learning gaps are wider than ever. Following months of disruption to classroom learning, there’s a pressing need to support children with special educational needs through targeted interventions. An estimated 10% of any school population presents with some degree of dyslexia, and these children could end up bearing the brunt of a school’s coronavirus restrictions.

Whole class tasks and activities

Delivering targeted support without bursting bubbles calls for a degree of creativity, but with careful planning, schools can build interventions into a whole class setting. Many of the approaches that work well in supporting children with specific learning difficulties such as dyslexia and other forms of neurodiversity also have a positive impact on children of all abilities.

One example is exercises to boost a child’s working memory. Developing memory skills is important for children who suffer from dyslexia, but every child in the class can benefit from exercises that will help them retain learning and secure the building blocks of their progress. By repeating concepts, a child is firmly embedding knowledge into their long-term memory stores.

A quick-fire memory game such as ‘I went to market and I bought…’ is a fun and interactive way to start the day and helps to get the brain firing on all cylinders first thing in the morning. Activities which go right back to basics in core skills such as phonics and times tables are very valuable for pupils with processing difficulties, but are also enjoyable – and useful – for everyone in the classroom.

Multi-sensory learning

Many schools have adapted their learning spaces to create a dyslexia-friendly classroom. Certain learning resources, typefaces and background are better suited to children with reading difficulties. These adaptations can be used in any classroom so children with special educational needs are well supported in a whole class environment.

Likewise, activities which encourage children to use all their senses enable teachers to respond to a full range of learning styles in one classroom bubble.

Children who find letter recognition difficult could revise the alphabet with multisensory techniques, using physical items, such as plastic letters or letter pebbles, saying and hearing the letters, tracing over these with a finger, tracking the letters and putting them in alphabetical sequence. 

Similarly, physical objects like counters, Numicon, and Cuisenaire Rods, are useful approaches for number based work as they allow children to explore mathematical connections kinaesthetically.

This multi-sensory approach is effective at all ability levels as learning which draws on all the senses is more likely to stay with the child.

Re-establishing learning behaviour

Pupil wellbeing should be at the heart of the Recovery Curriculum. Children have returned to school having lived through some difficult experiences during lockdown, and this could worsen any learning difficulties and widen existing gaps.

If pupils are given the time and space to express their concerns and find reassurance, they will reintegrate into school life more quickly, and develop the good learning behaviours that might have slipped while they have been out of the classroom.

If it isn’t possible to work with small groups of pupils, there are whole class wellbeing activities schools can run to renew children’s confidence and help them find their voice in the classroom. Circle time is a great way to encourage children to talk and listen and to remind them to take turns. Songs and poems which help children learn number facts or vocabulary give children the opportunity to vocalise their learning without having to speak up in a large group if they prefer not to.

Many children’s digital skills have undergone a major upgrade while learning from home, and working on-screen is often more accessible and less threatening for a child than a pen and paper exercise. Online quizzes and games are a good way for teachers to identify gaps in learning without children even knowing they are being tested.

Short stints on an online learning resource can help to plug specific gaps in learning while children remain in their classroom bubble.

This academic year is bound to present new challenges as we navigate our way through the pandemic and the restrictions it imposes on our daily lives. However, there are creative ways for schools to support children with a whole range of needs even when confined to a classroom bubble.

Equally, pupils of all abilities are able to build their resilience and grow in confidence as they re-visit learning that’s familiar to them, in an enjoyable and inclusive format.

The introduction of bubbles may be designed to limit the spread of infection, but it needn’t limit teachers’ ability to support every child in the classroom.

Pamela and Rachel’s top tips for schools

  • Start the day with a memory game such as ‘I went to market and I bought…’
  • Re-visit the basics of maths and English to build pupils’ confidence
  • Use activities like circle time to encourage children to talk and listen
  • Try quizzes and digital activities rather than tests to identify gaps
  • Use physical objects like pebbles for adding and multiplying
  • Help children learn the alphabet or times tables using poetry or song

Pamela and Rachel founded Lancashire: Dyslexia Information, Guidance and Support (LDIGS) in 2014. They are joint authors of Lexplore Intensive, a new programme which supports teachers and teaching assistants to further develop pupils’ reading ability at all levels from emergent to fluent readers.


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