The Conceptual Curriculum
The Conceptual Curriculum encompasses student interests and motivators within a curriculum in a regular classroom, but is not limited to that setting. It works through conversation, and the exploration and enlargement of experience. The Conceptual Curriculum is skills and context based and pupils will actively engage in a variety of learning activities. These areas include Communication, Cognition, Physical development, Self Help and Independence and are all transferrable skills that the child and young people can use for life outside school.
Personal targets are identified in consultation with families, classroom staff and other professionals. These targets are based on each individual’s current strengths and needs and will focus on learning fundamental and functional skills that will empower/enable them to gain limited control of their immediate environment and work on further improving their understanding of the world.
Skills of social interaction and engaging with the world may well be the starting point. It is of paramount important for these learners to participate in activities that motivate in order to increase, and maintain, their interest in the world around them thereby enhancing their quality of life.
A rolling programme of themes, contexts and subjects is in place to inspire, stimulate and motivate the pupils.
The continuous process of assessment keeps the learner as the centre of focus at all times. All pupils have an Education and Health Care Plan, Annual Review and aspirational short term and medium targets are evaluated, discussed and amended, as appropriate and whenever appropriate. These are based on each pupil’s individual priorities and needs as determined in discussion with the team around the child or young person.
Engagement is a key area for consideration and the Engagement Profile and Routes for Learning Map will be explored alongside the Affective Communication Assessment
Core Strands of the Conceptual Curriculum
Communication: A major focus for everyone is the importance of communication. Pupils will be learning that they can have an impact on another person, that they are fun to be with and that they have the ability to initiate and maintain social interactions. They may be moving from unintentional communication to intentional. Positive relationships, development of self-esteem, a sense of their own feelings and emotions and conveying these to others are of paramount importance and staff need to be very good at interpreting children’s behaviour so that they can respond appropriately. For pupils in the early stages of development we create a reactive environment in which staff respond to any behaviour as a means of communication.
Various strategies are required to enable all pupils to understand what is happening and what is expected of them. Clear cues are given before any intervention. Intensive Interaction is just one approach that has proved to be very successful when working with pupils within The Conceptual Curriculum.
Cognition: Pupils working within the Conceptual Curriculum are likely to be working at a very early stage of development in their cognitive skills. Understanding how pupils function is essential and ensures that teaching occurs at the right level for learning. If a child has only just managed to smile to communicate ‘more’ when s/he wants an activity to continue, it is unreasonable to expect him or her to understand spoken language. Music and songs help to ensure appropriate access to learning. Pupils are likely to be developing skills and learning concepts via an interactive, playful approach, with lots of opportunities for repetition and lots of time to process any information.
Sensory: We live in a multi-sensory world therefore a sensory approach to learning is essential. Hands-on opportunities to work with and manipulate, objects and various materials and mediums is crucial. Resources should usually be presented one at a time, with plenty of time for the children and young people to react and respond to each one. Ideally a set of resources should be available for every learner and an adult sitting interacting with them will maintain their engagement in learning at an appropriate level.
Activities should be used to encourage learning and not just be used only for ‘an experience’, for example, if a child is working on anticipating a fun, well-rehearsed activity, then the resource can be used in a burst-pause manner to allow the child to recognise the pattern and begin to anticipate that the activity will begin again after a pause.
Movement: Being able to MOVE is a great part of how we learn, so movement must underpin all areas of the curriculum. At Henry Tyndale we have adopted the ‘MOVE’ philosophy, which is an activity based programme using the combined knowledge of education, therapy and the family to effectively teach children with physical disabilities and complex needs, functional activities based on the skills of sitting, standing and walking. This means that every pupil is given the opportunity to access activities in a variety of positions. Besides incorporating movement, stretching and changing positions into lessons, using standing frames and other pieces of equipment needs to be scheduled into the school day.
Positional Changes are built into the timetable each and every day for our wheelchair users. Practising basic skills on a daily basis is very dull without a range and variety of context, so pupils carry out these changes in position whilst carrying out lessons which contain lots of ideas for embedding early learning and movement into fun activities. Changes in position can also be used as an opportunity for a more informal Intensive Interaction session.
Personal Care/Self-help skills: Personal care skills involving hygiene, dressing, toileting and/or eating are best taught through opportunities for hands-on practice. Tasks need to be broken down into very small steps so that the pupils can complete the final part of each task (backward chaining) so they can experience success. These are activities that the pupils are going to require support for throughout the whole of their life and it is important that they are actively involved and have as much control as possible over the completion of these tasks. These activities should not just happen to them! Their involvement whenever possible should be encouraged. Pupils need many opportunities to practice and learn the sequence of everyday routines so that they can begin to anticipate what is going to happen next. Time should be given for the pupil’s to communicate in whichever way available to them that they are ready e.g. vocalise, give fleeting eye contact, move their hand, smile etc.
Using ICT can help enhance and motivate learning and provide access to activities that might otherwise be difficult or impossible. Pupils may require assistive technology to enable them to have control of their environment and to develop a range of skills, for example, early language skills, to play and have fun, to develop sensory awareness and to be involved with cooperative activities with others. The use of switches is an important avenue of learning as pupils can begin to have a limited control over their immediate environment and gain some means of occupying their own time.
Social, Emotional and Mental Health
The important area of social emotional and mental health is not covered as a discreet subject but rather permeates all that we do for this group of children. Addressing their special educational needs in an appropriate way, with enthusiasm and care, is the best way to support their wellbeing. All available evidence suggests that those with disabilities are even more likely to suffer from mental health issues than neuro-typical youngsters. Providing a voice for them and responding to all communicative intent shown is the best way to enhance self-esteem, enjoyment and engagement are also key to good mental health.
Pupils may experience changes in health and well-being in many different ways but it can take time to understand an individual’s means of expression. People who spend time with these youngsters are best placed to interpret and identify their signs, any changes in behaviour and their communications – e.g. body movements, facial expressions, vocalisations, single words etc. - which may indicate changes in their emotional wellbeing. Consideration is given as to how a pupil’s needs are best met when it is evident that his or her wellbeing is adversely affected. Positive relationships are key here.
Generally a good learning situation comprises one adult and 2 children. That adult can engage children by alternating between the two, judging the length of time for each interaction by the children’s reactions. The session can be driven by the pace that’s right for those children and not by the tolerance level of other more able children. Some children love to watch their peers but others have very little interest in anything that doesn’t happen within a few centimetres of them.
There should also be opportunities for individual work between an adult and child and often the routines of the day give the best possibilities for this to happen. Dressing and undressing, eating and drinking offer lovely moments for adults to interact individually with children. Staff can work on communication and cognition targets as well as self-help targets in these situations.