This issue looks at study skills in terms of helping pupils with SEN to engage with the learning process and take some responsibility themselves for achieving a positive outcomepdf-9797113

SENCO Week – Helpsheet 25.pdf

The term ‘study skills’ means lots of different things these days and encompasses everything from revision techniques to thinking skills.

Support for SENCOs

The winner of the nasen Book to Support Teaching and Learning (pupil book category) is particularly relevant to our topic this week (see SEN News, below, for other prize winners). A Brief Guide to Successful Learning by Rebecca Thomas is an excellent little book. Written by a dyslexic student for dyslexic students, it has really ‘nailed down’ the fundamental issues of successful study. Subtitled ‘I wish I’d known this years ago’, the book tackles organization, planning, reading and note-taking, essay writing, revision and exams in a way that speaks directly to the reader and provides simple step-by-step guidance on how to navigate successfully through a higher education course. It has all the features you would look for in a book for dyslexic readers: clear, generously sized fonts, good use of color (avoiding black-on-white print) with careful layout, helpful signposting and useful graphics. Like many materials developed for dyslexics however, this book has much wider application: it would be a valuable resource for all sorts of students, and could certainly be used at KS3 /KS4 as well as with undergraduates.

Ideally of course, you will be tackling the basics of good study skills much earlier on with your pupils. A specific lesson or series of lessons, on study skills may be an appropriate way forward – some schools offer this as a lunchtime or after-school session but this approach may not attract those pupils who really need to go! An alternative is to set up small group sessions, possibly with a skilled TA to address such components as:

  • Listening and remembering: Get them to practice listening to a short description or explanation and then repeating what they can remember. If this is difficult for them, practice can help some pupils to improve – lists of numbers, games like ‘I packed a suitcase and put in …’ Use mnemonics to aid remembering, eg the order of planets in the solar system: ‘My very educated mother just sent us nine pizzas’ (Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune, Pluto). Teach them to visualize as an aid to memory and remind teachers of the benefits of visual back-up for the spoken word. What can pupils do to help themselves? Eg make notes, use a dictaphone, ask the teacher for a copy of his notes or what she writes on the board.
  • Reading for information: When pupils have to work hard to reach even basic levels of decoding, their understanding of the text is often less than perfect. Reading something twice can be a useful habit to get into. Provide copies of the text, or cover with a transparent sheet to allow them to highlight key words, using a different color for tricky words which need explaining. It’s also important that pupils understand the difference between fact and opinion and, as they get older, know how to double-check factual information given.
  • Understanding the question: This can be ‘the first fence’ where many pupils fall, especially under the stress of exam conditions. Too often, they see a key word which is familiar and simply write down everything they know about it. Practice in reading through questions and problems can be really beneficial; do they know how to ‘describe’, ‘compare’, ‘evaluate’, ‘discuss’? What will a correct answer or successful piece of work look like? Assess the work of past pupils or provide a worked example that pupils can work on together and improve.
  • Research skills: In group work, the pupils with SEN are often those who sit back and allow their more able peers to take the lead in any research needing to be done. This can provide valuable modelling and support for the less able, but they also need experience in working in this way themselves – perhaps paired with someone of similar ability. Working with a TA, they can be given a research task and ‘walked through’ the process of finding and recording the information, eg ‘Why was rationing necessary during the Second World War and how did it work?’
  1. What do we need to do? (Do they understand the words ‘rationing’ and ‘necessary’, can they use a dictionary to make sure?)
  2. What do we already know about this? Jot down ideas.
  3. The ‘why’ means that we are looking for the ‘reasons’ and will use the word ‘because’ in our response – can we think of any possible reasons, using what we have learned before, read about, seen on TV?
  4. Now let’s make a list of what we think we know but need to check out, and some questions we want to answer, eg did people in the country, near to farms, get more food than people in the cities?
  5. How can we find out? (make a range of material available to them – see list provided on the Helpsheet).
  6. Can we each find out different things to pool together?
  7. How can we show what we have found out? (See Helpsheet)
  8. How do we know we have done well? What are our success criteria?

Support for teachers

Encourage teachers to incorporate some generic approaches into their lessons, supported where possible by a TA, perhaps using the Helpsheet provided to act as prompts for pupils (add your own ideas to this). Take a look at the Inspirations software website – an excellent resource for both teacher and students

Teachers should be thinking about how to enable pupils with SEN to:

  • complete tasks without a lot of adult intervention (gradually decreasing the amount of supervision); this may need some scaffolding
  • preview or skim materials before reading them in detail (model this from the whiteboard)
  • accurately decode and understand text (accessible texts should be available)
  • summarize the main points of the task (check their understanding)
  • use a number of different sources to locate required information
  • work in cooperation in a pair, group or individually to complete assignments
  • keep going when a task appears challenging (provide encouragement; can extra time be given?)
  • make links between new and prior learning
  • present what they have learned in a variety of ways
  • ask for help when needed
  • see mistakes as part of the learning process.

This e-bulletin issue was first published in October 2009

About the author: Linda Evans is the author of SENCO Week. She was a teacher/SENCO/adviser/inspector, before joining the publishing world. She now works as a freelance writer, editor and part-time college tutor.