Distance is healthy
Students that have experienced trouble in schools, especially due to their behaviour, have responded very well to learning online. In the first instance, the anonymity students and teachers enjoy online creates a healthy distance for them both. It is a much less confrontational space to inhabit and students have responded by behaving quite well in lessons.
Activity is the key
Apricot’s provision has been developed specifically to re-engage reluctant learners – those who have been permanently excluded from school, those at risk of exclusion, or in danger of becoming NEET. Some of our students are on the edge of society, either already engaged in offending or likely to be. Our programmes are designed to be totally interactive, meaning that unwilling learners are more likely to engage with their own learning. The visually stimulating and highly participatory nature of our lessons also helps those with learning difficulties. Courses are broken into small chunks, allowing learners to achieve quickly and regularly. The regularity of their achievements is highly motivating for them.
Choosing the right starter and lesson pacing are also vital components for keeping students engaged. We use an application that allows teachers to switch from one activity to the next seamlessly. As soon as students enter the classroom they are given tasks to work on straight away. A starter that engages them usually requires deeper thinking. It doesn’t have to be related to the skills we will use in that lesson, as the aim is to set the tone rather than exploit the content. It’s a common trait of students with behavioural difficulties that their brains are overactive, so we’ve that found playing a strategy game alongside working on the teaching material allows them an outlet for all of that energy. For example, we might play connect 4 with them at the same time as answering Pythagoras questions. This keeps the pace fast, which appeals to their natural ability to focus on a lot of things at the same time. Boredom and misbehaviour in traditional classrooms are often the reason for misbehaviour in the first place. This can also work as a reward, as they have the opportunity to beat the teacher!
Giving students a choice of task/activity/text also allows them to enjoy some control over their own learning and cultivates sense of responsibility. Being in 1:1 or small groups mean that teachers can give them their undivided attention, which can take away the desire to misbehave for attention. As teachers can’t actually see their “behaviour,” acting out quickly loses its effect. And, of course, immediate feedback on their work and regular praise keeps student’s motivated and gives a real sense of achievement
All our students have an individual learning plan focussing on their particular needs. Desired routes of progression are noted at the start of a learner’s course and revisited throughout to ensure they are in a position to be fulfilled – whether that route be reintegration to mainstream education or progression to college or work.
Our teachers are accustomed to addressing complex needs and challenging behaviours. Our work with PRUs, LAs, Councils, hospital and outreach services, inclusion services, schools and academies has exposed our teachers to a diverse scope of reasons for non-attendance and failure to achieve in mainstream provision. They are experienced in engaging reluctant learners and in compensating for the gaps left by long periods of absence from education.
The hardest obstacle to overcome is when a group of several students with behaviour issues access lessons from the same physical room. Momentum can build quickly and we depend on the key workers physically onsite with them to aide in behaviour management.