Author: Sarah McCaan QTS, PGCE, BSc (Hons)
How to encourage children with SEN to try new things
Trying something new for the first time can be so daunting for us all.
I vividly remember walking into a classroom for the first time to teach a lesson when my heart absolutely raced! I had so many ‘what ifs’ in my head, including ‘What if I make a fool of myself?’, ‘What if I fall?’ and ‘What if the students don’t understand what I am talking about?’
As it turned out the experience wasn’t anywhere near as bad as I’d feared. In fact, I am still teaching over a decade later!
As adults we can understand that everything doesn’t go to plan all of the time. We still have fears all the same and overcoming the fear of trying something new can be so challenging yet so rewarding.
But what can we do to help children with SEN to conquer this fear?
7 tips to help children with SEN to open up and discover more
For our students who live with a wide-ranging variety of SEN including autism, ADHD and dyslexia among many others, this fear of new experiences can be further compounded by their individual barriers to learning. We understand that trying something new can be super scary.
That’s why, as specialist SEN tutors, we constantly look at new ways to promote and instil confidence in our students. Here are great tips that I have learned in my career as an SEN teacher so far.
Tip 1: Find “The Hook”
How something new is introduced for the first time is incredibly important to set the scene for a child with SEN. Think about how you can answer the question: ‘What’s this all about then?’ in a way that will appeal to the child you’re teaching.
If you try to personalise the introduction to something new, it can really have really positive effects. You could do this through a song, a video clip, an image, a game… whatever works to truly hook and capture that child’s imagination, without focussing too much on the new concept itself.
TIP 2: Channel a child’s personal interests
Understanding and including student’s personal interests into what you’re teaching can have huge benefits.
For example, I know very little about rugby but one of my students with autism is an expert, so we used that topic as a basis for a writing lesson.
One of my students who finds it difficult to focus adores boxing – so guess what we based our lesson on when introducing biographies?
I also think music is a fantastic resource. I have played everything from the Spice Girls to the Philharmonic Orchestra in my sessions to engage and enthuse my students! Music can also have a profoundly calming effect on a child’s behaviour and focus too.
TIP 3: Show that you have understanding and empathy
I had lovely feedback from a student with ADHD recently who said “she really gets me!”
I don’t believe that there is a magic formula to this, but listening and understanding a child’s needs is vital when you’re teaching.
It’s important to never make assumptions about what students know and understand when you’re introducing a new concept.
Keep it simple and then build on that. It’s also a good idea to revisit a previously-learned concept just before starting a new one because this will build confidence and engagement.
TIP 4: Have some fun!!
Humour and fun work very well when you’re teaching child with SEN something new. Learning doesn’t have to be boring!
If a child is busy having fun then they can often forget that they are actually learning something new. Many of our students with SEN are very visual and kinaesthetic learners, so we need to be creative and imaginative in our approach.
In other words, don’t be afraid of getting messy! Getting outdoors to learn is always a fun option.
TIP 5: Celebrate – or acknowledge – every success
Every achievement should be recognised and addressed.
I’m suggesting a full-scale party each time a child achieves something, but this point is important for students who respond to very structured sessions, particularly for those with autism and ADHD.
I’ve developed a series of personalised self-assessment success criteria based on “I can” or “Traffic Light” tick sheets, so they can mark off what they have achieved and where they need to go for themselves.
TIP 6: It’s okay if something doesn’t work!
Whilst we always want to promote “having a go”, It’s also important not be disheartened if a new approach you try with a child who has SEN doesn’t work straight away or at all.
Sometimes, we need to spontaneously change things up or try something different!
The best way forward is to persevere without being too pushy.
TIP 7: And finally…remember a child with SEN is special
There’s a reason why the word “special” is included in the term SEN.
It’s an absolute privilege to work with children who are just that. I’ve always found that patience really is a virtue and pays off.
We just need to take some time to build confidence in the child you’re teaching and all the hard work will be worth it.
Whenever I am teaching something new, I always try to remember how challenging I found it to walk into that classroom for the first time.
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