Building Capacity in Learning Support
Within the context of special educational needs (SEN) there is an increasing emphasis on inclusion and on meeting the needs of learners in an inclusive setting. This is reflected in the Learning Support Guidelines (LSG)(2000) and subsequent circulars. The guidelines advocate placing a high priority on enhancing classroom-based learning through alternative groupings and providing “shared teaching approaches, involving the class teacher and the learning support teacher in the pupil’s regular classroom” (Government of Ireland, LSG, 2000: 46). In light of the emphasis on shared teaching approaches in the pupil’s classroom a series of one-day seminars on ‘Team Teaching’ in the context of literacy were delivered in the following Education Centres: Carrick-on-Shannon, Donegal, Mayo and Sligo. The aim of the team-teaching seminar was to provide clear guidelines on the selection of the Learning Support caseload in schools drawing on what is outlined in the Learning Support Guidelines and the relevant circulars. The seminar would also examine the identification of children's specific needs and the various models of in-class support that could be put in place to address them. The rationale for team teaching, arising from the learning support needs of the child, underpinned the seminar’s core content. Planning for team teaching was identified as an area requiring particular attention during the initial rollout of the team teaching seminars in 2012.
A key feature of this project was the development of local teachers as trained facilitators in order to build capacity for learning support in the region. Nine teachers who had practical experience of learning support including implementation of team teaching practices, were identified to train as facilitators for this project. From January to April 2013, a programme of professional development support was provided towards training and preparing these teachers to deliver the team teaching seminars. This programme included
- initial online survey to capture these teachers’ experience, motivation and expectations of the project
- submissions from participating teachers of practical samples of team teaching practices
- face-to-face meetings with two PDST advisors
- identification of learning support caseloads
- meetings to reach agreement on the team teaching practices to be included in the seminar, core content
- and key messages, communication of administrative details and protocols
- e-mail and telephone contact.
Schools in the area were invited to nominate a teacher to attend the seminar. The invitation was open to class teachers, learning support teachers and principals. Between February and April 2013, eight seminars attended by a total of 322 participants were delivered by the trained facilitators with each facilitator co–delivering up to three seminars. By way of support, the two PDST advisors attended the first of the facilitators’ seminars and were also available to the facilitators by phone/e mail throughout the delivery period.
The project was evaluated using an evidence-based professional development impact evaluation framework (King, 2012). Facilitators completed a survey before and after the seminar and all participants who attended the seminar completed an evaluation sheet. Findings from participants indicate an overwhelming positive response to the day with 84% reporting that they felt ‘very well’ or ‘well’ supported in understanding the rationale and evidence base for team teaching, while 81% stated that they were ‘very well’ or ‘well’ supported in developing practical skills for team teaching for literacy. Overall, facilitators found the experience very worthwhile and many of them outlined their desire to share their experience of team teaching with others as motivation for becoming a facilitator. While they largely felt their expectations were met, they also acknowledged the challenges and the demands on their time regarding preparation work. When asked about skills needed for the role of being a local facilitator, all acknowledged the importance of having computer and presentation skills. Interestingly, all facilitators reported that applying their own ‘practical experience to the content’ was very important or extremely important. Sample comments from participants
This has been the most informative, practical, helpful and useful course
An interesting, informative and very worthwhile course
As part of the overall vision for the project, and a desire to respond to teachers’ needs, two options for future support were offered in the teacher evaluations:
a) drop-in centre (the provision of a day, with hourly pre-booked slots, led by a PDST advisor, whereby a school/ teacher could arrange a meeting, on a one-to-one basis, to access further support in this area)
b) follow-up session to share experiences in implementing team teaching.
42% of teachers were in favour of drop-in-days and 36% of teachers indicated they would like to attend a follow-up session to share experience. To date three follow up drop-in-centres have been run through Mayo Education Centre and have proven hugely popular. Attendance at the one day seminar was a prerequisite for attendance at the drop in centre. Given the demand for support in this area and the positive findings of the project so far, future aims include
- continued work with these trained local facilitators in the context of learning support
- provision of on-going support to teachers who have attended the seminar days through facilitating
- drop-in clinics in each of the Education Centres
- planning workshops for team-teaching
- a focus on team teaching in the context of numeracy.
Government of Ireland (2000) Learning Support Guidelines. Dublin: Stationery Office.
King,F.(2012) Exploring the Professional Development Legacy. Clare Education Centre & Limerick Education Centre- Research Journal, (II), pp. 29 - 36