Published on: 11 Jan 2016

Sometimes a pupil’s needs can be difficult to unpick because behaviour can mask what is really going on and lead to a label that only covers the surface

Underneath the tip of the iceberg - what if it's not what you think?

By Beccie Hawes, Head of Service, Rushall's Inclusion Advisory Support Team

I have the pleasure and privilege of getting to know many young people as I support them through our service work in schools. This involves me getting to know a pupil and finding out about their strengths and areas of difficulties. Often, when working with a new pupil, the school based conversation starts something like this: “I have this child who no one knows what to do about.” This then leads to: “We’ve exhausted everything we’ve got to offer and were hoping you and your magic wand could come and have a look.” At this point I always agree because I love a challenge and am yet to find the unteachable learner. What I usually find is that the pupil is exhibiting a series of behaviours that are communicating something about their learning to us. My task is to be the person that unpicks this!

I recently observed thirteen-year old Josh sat outside the head teacher’s office doing what a nearby teaching assistant referred to as ‘his constant chuntering’ about receiving yet another detention. It transpired that he had received yet another consequence for not having his PE kit and the right ingredients for food technology. Josh had then stormed out of his form room and punched the wall. In hushed tones the teaching assistant explained that Josh always forgets everything, was always angry, always damaging stuff and just not doing well at school. She shared that this was ‘just the way it was with him’. I couldn’t accept this and set myself the challenge of exploring if there was a reason why this was the way it was for Josh.

Sometimes a pupil’s needs can be difficult to unpick because behaviour can mask what is really going on and lead to a label that only covers the surface. After six months of exploring below the tip of the iceberg we realised that Josh experiences dyslexia. His dyslexia had been hidden behind thirteen years of frustration, fear and embarrassment driven behaviour. Josh and the others just like him are the perfect reason why we must:

  • Dig deeper than what the surface shows us;
  • Never accept that ‘this is just the way it is’;
  • Triangulate information from a range of situations and sources;
  • Have robust assessment for learning procedures and practices that drive learning forwards.

At the heart of this we then need to remember that the pupil doesn’t have a learning difficulty – we have a teaching difficulty. It is up to us to find the best way in which a pupil will learn. Going under the tip of the iceberg to accurately identify a need is the only way our teaching difficulties will be solved.

Follow Beccie on Twitter @riatws4

Beccie’s book, Getting it Right for Dyslexic Learners - the Complete Teacher's Toolkit, is available

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