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This post forms part of the Knowledge and Skills discussion for #Blogsync February.You can read all the wonderful and varying posts on this topic by visiting @Edutronic_Net ‘s #Blogsync page.

I have given the knowledge and skills debate a great deal of thought over the years. Periodically it pops up on Twitter and causes a huge debate. Tempers are frayed on both sides of the table and we sometimes end up with a right old Twitter storm. I’ve seen insults hurled and people blocked for daring to challenge the opinions of others. I’m loath to join discussions like that. For me it seems akin to arguing about politics or religion, you will never change someone’s mind in that way.

This month the lovely @Edutronic_Net has invited us to join #Blogsync where we can air our views in a calm and controlled manner. A grown up forum for sharing ideas. These are my views.

I have long been of the opinion that there is no one set way to teach children. I would go even further and say there is no one set way to teach a child. My view may be slightly different from others because I teach special children. They learn different things in different ways. I am a phonics fan, given my own free choice I would sit them all down and teach synthetic phonics, move on to word building through blending sounds and then teach whole words that do not conform to this method. Similarly, in Maths, again given my own free choice I would teach times tables up to 12 and have every child learn them like their lives depended on it. I was taught in this way and I can still remember my times tables now and if I’m honest I use that skill almost daily. Not to recite times tables obviously, but for all kinds of mental arithmetic while I’m out shopping or for rapidly working out the price of a bill in a restaurant. These methods work, I know they do, they are tried and tested and found to be successful. However, they don’t work for all children. Some of the children I teach need a different approach to reading. They may begin with pictures of objects and whole words to match to those objects. They may then move on to initial sounds and master a few of those. They will then often learn a word from the context or if there is a picture available they will use that as an aid to learning. These children will be functional readers. It will get them by and afford them some independence. I’m not advocating this as a method of learning to read, I’m advocating it as a different method which may help a child who cannot learn through synthetic phonics to become a functional reader. They will be able to find the vegetable section in the supermarket, the sign for a toilet and indeed the correct toilet. They will hopefully be able to read road signs and keep themselves safe from harm. It is true, they will not be reading in the true sense of the word. They will not be able to decode a word they have never seen but they will be independent readers to a certain degree. No amount of phonics teaching will work for this particular child, I know, I have tried it for a particular child at my school to no avail. Myself and my special school colleagues up and down the country have devised many different ways to teach reading. So, while I agree that synthetic phonics is the best method, it is certainly not the only method. Would we deny these children the chance to learn to read a few words by this alternative method and thereby gain some independence? Of course we wouldn’t.

That same child might then learn Maths in a totally different manner. It is his way, to learn his times tables by rote. He can spout out 7X7=49 or 5X9=45 almost as quickly as I can. That in itself is a skill and will stand him in good stead. I am saying that this boy learns Maths in a fairly traditional manner. As his teacher I must be aware of this and teach him in each subject in the way he learns. History, for example is different again. This boy learns History by doing things, by being creative. He can tell you all about the different castles around our Country because we have made them in DT lessons. He has designed them using ICT and made them using all different materials, we have visited them, but mostly he has been hands on and has used his creative skills. I have mentioned three subjects for this boy and he learns about all three in a different way.

The essence of what I am saying is that children do learn things differently. They always have and they always will. The ‘traditional’ method of direct instruction has great merit and works for some, but not all. The progressive method and learning through discovery works for some, but not all. You have to teach the children in front of you and you have to teach them in the way they learn. This is the magic of special schools, we have the time to adapt to this. We can teach our children individually if necessary. Personalisation is key in special schools.

If I was to really voice an opinion I would hazhard a guess and say that some children struggle because they are being taught by a teacher who teaches using one method only. I believe that children learn different things in different ways. It is our job to find that way and teach them accordingly.

In the words of Ignacio Estrada
“If a child can’t learn the way we teach, maybe we should teach the way they learn”.

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