Part B ii) Critical Reflective account
Reflective thinking and practice have become increasingly common concepts in education in recent times (Bruster & Peterson, 2012). The modern classroom environment requires that teachers encompass more than just teaching skills and strategies, but also ethical codes in which to engage with pupils in their classes (Larrivee, 2000).
Being a reflective practitioner involves teachers challenging preconceived assumptions, using reflection to solve problems and question existing practices (Larrivee, 2000). A critical incident is something which makes a teacher stop, think and reflect (Mohammed, 2016).
These are often everyday occurrences but, when reflected upon, can develop a teacher’s effectiveness in the classroom. Below, I will describe one such occurrence, looking at my immediate responses and my subsequent reflections.
The lesson became a critical incident primarily due to the deterioration in the behaviour of child A, and the subsequent knock on effect upon the second child in the group. There were other factors which built up to this.
Initially I had only been given limited instructions, resources and no form of lesson plan from the class teacher.
This meant that I had to think quickly on my feet, try out different strategies and create resources as I went. Furthermore, although I knew both children and had worked with them at various times during my placement, I had never observed a phonics session with them so had little to base the lesson upon.
I had immediate concerns when being asked to work with the students due to the lack of a lesson plan and only limited instructions given by the class teacher. Also, having worked with child A previously, I suspected that a period of extended writing (as I had been instructed to carry out) would prove difficult for him to remain engaged and could result in behaviour issues, which did transpire.
Initially the lesson was going ok, eliciting words containing the two chosen phonemes and using these to create written sentences. Child A quickly however quickly became distracted, ‘fiddling’ with the phonics resource box and standing up and looking out of the window, to see what was happening outside the class. To try to counteract this I attempted to remove the distractions.
Firstly, I moved the resource box away from the desk we were sat at and placed it in a corner of the room away from the students. I also closed the blinds on the window in an attempt to block out any distraction from outside and get the boys back on task.
This worked for a short time, however the child then began walking around, opening and closing the door of the classroom and disturbing the second child from his work. I tried to coax the child back to do his work firstly using positive language, then with the threat of consequences (keeping him in at break, as was the usual course of action in the school), however both these methods were largely unsuccessful.
This led to me feeling extremely frustrated and, to an extent, angry at the loss of control and the lack of constructive work. I also had feelings of confusion as I wasn’t completely sure how to remedy the situation.
As a result I decided to end the writing work and try to engage the pupils by using a game – bingo. The game incorporated the words we had developed as part of the initial phonics work and involved the children creating sentences verbally using these words. This immediately got the children engaged in the lesson again and I was able to get child A to sit and play the game.
When child A began to lose concentration again by shouting over the other pupil and refusing to remain seated, I changed exercises firstly to a word jumble task then a game of Pictionary/charades. I chose this final game, as from previous experience, I knew child A enjoyed art and drawing, I also hoped that acting out certain words would help placate the child’s hyperactive tendencies by giving him the opportunity to stand and move around.
I was relieved to be able to calm the situation and was pleased that both pupils were able to engage more fully with learning. Furthermore, both students enjoyed the lesson and I believe had a fuller understanding of the phonemes we chose to work with.
After the incident background reading and talks with other staff members,reinforced my belief that the child exhibits strong symptoms of ADHD. Both my mentor and TA also believe this may be the case. Although ADHD remains a somewhat controversial area, as most children occasionally exhibit many of the behaviours ascribed to the condition (Schlozman & Schlozman, 2000), Child A’s behavioural problems are much more noticeable and frequent compared to other children in his class.
He exhibits inattention, impulsivity and hyperactivity and poor working memory. He often has difficulty sustaining a single activity (Scholzman and Scholzman, 2000), fidgets excessively, interrupts others and acts rashly (Scholzman and Scholzman, 2000). In addition I have noticed that he struggles socially and emotionally, having difficulties in making and keeping friends (DuPaul, Weyadt and Janusis, 2011).
In both my critical incident, and on frequent occasions in his usual class, the child had difficulty sitting still, having a tendency to move around the classroom at inappropriate times, fidgdling with objects close to him as well as with other pupils (Murphy, 2014). He also displays some of the more positive behaviours associated with ADHD; being curious, and creative (Hallowell & Ratey, 2011), especially in art which is a subject area he enjoys.
In terms of my initial feelings of frustration and anger when the incident occurred, especially with my struggles to get the boy seated and on task, in reflection I understand how this behaviour can be linked to weak executive functioning (Barkley, 2012). Executive functioning helps the control of impulses, control of emotions and determination of appropriate behaviours; areas which pupils with ADHD can find problematic (Gathercole et al 2008).
I also understand how lesson planning for pupils who exhibit ADHD is crucial. In my scenario I was thrown into a situation which was largely out of my control and hence unplanned from my perspective. If I were to work in a similar situation again, there would be several aspects I would change. For instance the classroom environment where we were working could have been deemed unsuitable.
The room is a ‘kitchen’ adjoining the child’s usual classroom. As such it was full of various objects which were very distracting for the child. Initially when the class started I had the ‘phonics box’ on the table alongside myself and the children. Again with reflection I realise this was a mistake with it causing a further distraction which interrupted the lesson.
A further factor was the window which opened up onto an outside area where some other pupils were working outside. Again this caused distraction which could have been avoided, although I did manage to solve this, to some extent, by closing the blinds.
One method I have read about, which I could have employed, is ‘time off the clock’ (Barkley, 2012). This technique gives the child regular breaks of two-to-three-minutes, allowing them to stand or walk around before reengaging with the task. Rather than confronting and challenging the child when he exhibits these behaviours, this method allows them time to deal with these impulses.
A further mistake I made, with reflection, was using the consequence of losing break time for the pupil when he continued to display challenging behaviours. Although this was in line with the usual consequences used by the school, I now believe this is completely the wrong way to go when working with a child who displays behaviours linked to ADHD. By removing some of his break time this only adds to levels of inactivity and may subsequently increase the likelihood of further problems (Murphy, 2014).
In my previous teaching experiences overseas I preferred to use more positive minded classroom management techniques and I believe these would have worked better in this case. One particular method I have used was giving raffle tickets for good behaviour and effort in class, which later would be used in a prize draw.
Research has indicated that frequent positive reinforcement of specific target behaviours and the use of token reinforcers (e.g. stickers, points or in my case raffle tickets) can be advantageous particularly when working with children exhibiting signs of ADHD (DuPaul, Weyadt and Janusis, 2011).
I believe that playing Pictionary/charades worked well. With this being a more physical kind of game wit seemed to help with the pupil’s hyperactivity and also appealed to his love of art. Research has shown that children with ADHD tend to focus strongly on things that interest them thus allowing them to maintain a greater level of engagement (Murphy, 2014).
The use of games and play has been seen to have beneficial effects on children diagnosed with ADHD, not only aiding their cognitive development, but also helping to build social skills by promoting aspects such as turn taking (O’Neill, Rajendran & Halperin 2014). Furthermore, providing the pupils with a variety of activities helped greatly to help them maintain concentration and engagement through the lesson.
In regards to my teaching practice I have realised that some strategies I naturally employ are beneficial to pupils displaying characteristics of ADHD. Particularly my preference to use positive feedback and encouragement, peer group work and a variety of tasks, including games (Schlozman & Schlozman, 2000; Murphy, 2014; DuPaul, Weyandt & Janusis, 2011).
It also demonstrated that I can think on my feet, due to receiving limited instruction or notification of the class from the teacher, and that I can be quite flexible with my teaching. It has furthermore, emphasised to me the importance of planning and organisation when creating lessons in order to fully meet the needs of all of the children and that clear communication between teachers and support staff is a critical aspect of this.
Interestingly, the research I have read has reinforced ideas I had whilst teaching overseas, where I used a team points system and a class raffle as a positive behavioural management system, both of which are recommended for engaging pupils with ADHD.
My research into the field of ADHD has made me consider areas such as classroom layout, seating arrangements and ‘time out’ and calming activities which could be used in future teaching.
Additionally, although I can see the benefits of one-on-one or small group interventions, I believe they can be overused. In the case of Child A he is regularly removed from the main class to work with a TA, in fact this occurs in the majority of English and maths lessons.
Having spoken to the child it is clear that he sees this as a case of the teacher “wanting to get him out of the classroom”. This clearly has effects on the child’s feeling of self-worth, his enjoyment of school and therefore his willingness to engage in learning.
From the teacher’s perspective I can see how the pressures of attainment targets and accountability can create problems, especially in a year 6 class with SATs to be taken at the end of the year, however I believe inclusive principles of trying to meet the needs of every child in the class are paramount.
How might my practice change and develop as a result of this analysis and learning?
I believe that careful planning is needed to meet the needs of each individual and in particular to child A. Many of the strategies used to engage pupils with ADHD constitute good general teaching practices and are aspects I will try to include on my future lessons. I will try out strategies such as ‘time-off-the-clock’ and focus on frequent positive feedback. I will also ensure that my lessons consist of a variety of tasks in order to engage the learning needs of all pupils.
One thing I have noticed during my school observations was the beneficial effect outdoor learning has on Child A’s behaviour. Each Thursday afternoon, the year 6 pupils are involved in outdoor learning activities, varying from visits to a local allotment, the local woods, problem solving tasks or fishing. During my observations it was particularly noticeable that the Child A’s behaviour improved substantially which seemed to be aided by his freedom to move around and interact with the environment.
This effect and benefit has also been noted in research (Kuo and Taylor, 2004). Although in my particular scenario I was unable to use this strategy, if I was teaching this class permanently more learning activities taking place outside of the classroom would be something I would look to incorporate into my planning.
Further strategies I have discovered during my research which have proven beneficial and which I would look to employ, include offering a choice among several tasks (Murphy, 2014; DuPaul & Weyandt 2006) – this often resulted in pupils displaying improved behavioir and greater engagement, peer tutoring and class wide peer tutoring (CWPT).
This is where pupils are paired up and take turns to tutor each other; providing frequent, immediate feedback and are encouraged to give praise and correct errors immediately. This helps address poor working memory issues children with ADHD may exhibit, as well as developing social skills (DuPaul & Weyandt, 2006).
Working memory problems can further be aided by the extensive modelling of activities and repeating instructions (Tannock & Martinussen, 2006), as well as breaking activities or assignments up into smaller chunks (Murphy, 2014).
This incident, and my subsequent research, has shown me that close, professional relationships with my students, and a knowledge of their motivations are important in creating an inclusive, safe classroom. This allows the planning of activities which will engage all pupils by incorporating areas of strength and interest. Indeed, many of the strategies I have described will not just aid those with ADHD but all pupils as a whole, ensuring that the needs of each individual are met.
Finally, his assignment has illustrated to me the importance of being a reflective practitioner. Critically reflecting upon my experiences will allow me to develop professionally as a teacher, be open minded, challenge my assumptions, as well as the status quo and help me to meet the needs of each individual in my class.
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