World Book day. Teaching ‘Classics’ to Children with SEND

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Yesterday I was contacted by @GuardianTeach and invited to share my favourite story for children with special educational needs ahead of World Book Day tomorrow. I gave this some thought. Of course I want to contribute, I always have something to say! On deeper thought, it isn’t quite that simple. It has to be age appropriate and also on the cognitive level of the children. I decided to recount one of my favourite sessions with my Key stage 3 class.

One of the most challenging things I do in literacy is to share the Classics with the children. They are entitled to the wonderful stories written by Shakespeare and William Golding in the same way that all children are. I have fond memories of acting out the balcony scene with KS3 a few years ago. Although the children had many additional needs, both medical and learning difficulties, they still enjoyed a good tale.This is a true story!

Picture the scene. The music is playing Celine Dion ‘My Heart will go on and on’ to give an air of romance. The room is darkened with a few subtle lights to give a soft romantic glow. I’m aiming to give my special children a taste of the balcony scene in Romeo and Juliet. We can’t do the whole book in detail as they are all working on P Levels although they are aged 13.

I have to adlib the story to enable the children to understand. I am confident that Shakespeare will not be offended. The children love the story so far and are quite in to the romantic notion of the scene. The room is festooned with red balloons, streamers and cushions to make them think of romance. There is a boardmaker visual on the whiteboard depicting two families arguing. My TA and I have decided that acting out the balcony scene will produce greater understanding for the children. With this in mind, Juliet, played by my only girl in the class is sitting in her wheelchair at the table with her father. She is doing a fantastic job of making loud wracking, sobbing noises because she misses her boyfriend Romeo. She cuddles a red heart shaped cushion in an effort to prove her love for her boyfriend. She presses her communication aid to tell Romeo how much she misses him and is instantly admonished by her father. A young boy eager to get in on the acting screams at her that Romeo is her enemy. I recover from the extremely loud shouting and tell the children that Romeo is similarly upset. He is on the opposite side of the room in his powered chair pretending to wander around Juliet’s garden. My young boy does some marvellous acting as he looks wistfully at the balcony.

Meanwhile, Juliet has decided to weep on her balcony outside her bedroom. With a great deal of encouragement and much whispering of the lines from me she finally says ‘Romeo, Romeo where are you?’ My TA and I were overjoyed, the children had captured the essence of the scene. I explain to them that Juliet would go to the front of the balcony at this point and peer out to look dreamily for Romeo. Right on cue and quick as a flash one of the boys decides to help out with the acting. With an almighty shove he pushes Juliet ‘off’ the balcony and in to the arms of a waiting Romeo. The reality is that we have an almighty crash and a collision of chairs. There was an incredibly loud crunching of metal and a momentary collective gasp from the children and staff before everyone collapsed in to a fit of giggles. Fortunately Juliet was not actually on a balcony and fortunately despite the collision of chairs no one was hurt.

That particular class may have had profound and multiple additional needs but they still loved a good story. I recommend adlibbing the classics to children with SEND, they truly appreciate the tales.

Enjoy World Book Day.

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