Middlesex University Professor Emerita Diane Montgomery is the author of ‘Teaching Gifted Children with SEN’. She seeks to challenge what she calls the “prevailing wisdoms” around teaching children with special educational needs and disabilities.
For me, the key issue in our SEND (special educational needs and disabilities) field is the lack of opportunity for teachers and teacher educators to challenge accepted wisdom, yet our lives are spent in classrooms, the engines of research.
Instead, researchers who get funding are housed in ‘hubs’ in Centres of Excellence and may never have taught a child or tried to control a difficult class. They must design ‘gold standard’ RCTs (randomised controlled trials) that will explore and manipulate variables in systematic fashion and gain government approval.
The researchers’ hypotheses can be based upon literature research rather than life in classrooms. When they do not have a hypothesis they can perform a multivariate analysis and find one. Unfortunately, classroom dynamics and their ecosystems cannot easily be reduced in this manner and make any sense for practitioners.
The result is that the prevailing wisdoms are endorsed. Custom and practice are handed down from one generation of teachers to the next, interfered with at intervals by government ministers. The ‘zeitgeist’ or current scientific orthodoxy prevails in the research field. Ethnomethodology, naturalistic observation and narrative researches still do not have the status of RCTs which in themselves are confirmatory studies and only half the research process.
The power of this orthodoxy can be felt if I present you with some of my findings, many that you will not agree with. Think of it as 20 Questions – agree or disagree? Please ignore the multiple questions inside some of the later items – it is not a research instrument.
Having tracked UAch among my degree students down through the age ranges my current research is on story writing or messages in Reception by analysing children’s marks on paper.
So far I have found that at least one third of infants enter Reception classes as self-regulated learners already having taught themselves to write (and probably read), or learning to do so soon after. They will be the productive gifted and the entrepreneurs if they can survive our schooling system, which will seek to suppress their SRL talent. The marks the children make can already tell us who are going to have literacy difficulties, who are the dyslexics, the dysgraphics, the slower learners and who will underachieve throughout school. This was the subject of my latest presentation at the 21st world Conference on Giftedness and Talent in Odense in August 2015. That audience was convinced, are you? Can we possibly persuade the teachers?
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