Inclusive education: developing support for all learners’ learning needs
The Optentia research focus area on the North-West University’s (NWU’s) campus in Vanderbijlpark recently hosted a conference entitled “Developing Support for the learning needs of ALL learners”.
The conference was sponsored by Mark Hayter from Edtechink and the Deputy Vice Chancellors’ office on the Vanderbijlpark campus. It was organised by Optentia’s research subprogramme Holistic Learner Development in Diverse Contexts, and presented by Francis Young International Consultants in School Improvement (FYI-CSI), from the United States of America (USA).
A large group of attendees from all walks of the education and special education fraternity was welcomed by Prof Mirna Nel, research professor at Optentia. Prof Ian Rothmann, director at Optentia and Mark Francis from FYI-CSI, also delivered welcoming and opening remarks. Mark Francis is the co-founder and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of FYI-SCI. He has more than 30 years’ experience as clinician and administrator and has also been a member of the Council for Exceptional Children (CEC) for 30 years.
More about the conference
There were two parallel sessions on the first day. One group was facilitated by Dr Vicky Spencer and addressed the early identification of children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Vicky holds a doctorate in special education. She is also a certified educational diagnostician and a board-certified behaviour analyst. In her workshop she emphasised that research shows that the sooner support services are provided to children with autism, the better the behavioural and academic outcomes will be for them. The session further examined the process for identifying children with autism and discussed some of the assessments that can be used in such a process. Vicky also provided information about the many resources available to assist teachers in teaching and supporting children with autism. It was asserted by Vicky that teachers need a variety of evidence-based strategies that encourage learning and increase success for both the child and the teacher. The day proceeded with this group discussing the development of an effective support programme for children with autism.
A parallel session presented by Dr Alice Farling and Mark Francis looked at leadership in an inclusive school. Alice Farling holds a doctorate in educational leadership and is a faculty member of the Aspiring Special Education Leadership Academy and the Virginia State Board of Education. The duo discussed the art and practice of creating inclusive schools using multiple leadership lenses. The multi-lens framework of Bolman and Deal was used as a tool to help shape an individual school’s culture to promote an effective inclusive learning environment. These multi-lenses include structural, human resources, political and symbolic frames. The session delved deeper into this leadership model and gave examples on how the model can be applied on a school and community level to ensure an inclusive management approach
On the second day the participants attended one full day workshop which was facilitated by all three presenters. The focus of this day was classroom behaviour management in general, but also made specifically relevant to learners with Autism, as well as on differentiating instruction and building effective school teams to support learners’ learning. Examples of effective communication strategies, as well as social and play activities were provided which can assist teachers to manage behaviour and thus ensure successful learning. Dr Spencer also explained how to conduct a Functional Behaviour Assessment in order to collect data for appropriate behaviour management strategies.
The feedback from all the participants was that this workshop provided them with worthwhile practical ideas and strategies to apply in their classrooms.