ABOUT THE REFERENCE GRID
You will see that the Reference Grid contains four columns. Look carefully at the headings.
The first column contains general information about autistic learners. It describes learning difficulties which autistic learners commonly experience to a greater or lesser degree. Of course, all learners are different, so this Reference Grid deals only in generalities. A better grid would be one which described the characteristics of the particular learner who is causing you concern, but this will come later.
Without information of sort contained in Column 1, it is impossible to differentiate effectively the tasks we plan to set, yet it is rare for this information to be readily available to subject teachers. In this example, Column 1 was compiled by a specialist in autism. In every school there should be someone who is familiar with the learner concerned and whose knowledge and expertise can be called upon. These workshops assume that, at least in schools that are seriously trying to be inclusive, this type of collaboration is encouraged.
The second column takes each of the points covered in the first column and suggests what impact that particular characteristic is likely to have on the autistic learner's efforts to manage in the foreign anguage classroom. In compiling Column 2 the autism specialist and a class language teacher worked together, though often the language teacher had been unaware of the nature of the difficulty the learner had been facing. A better understanding provided good preparation for tackling the next column.
The third column again needs collaboration, but now it is likely to be the language teacher who is taking the lead, with the learning specialist suggesting additions and adaptations as required. Effective differentiation can be anything which allows a learner who was at risk of failing, to be successful at a given task; however, from a practical point of view, it would be better to experiment first with strategies which can be used with all the learners in the class, so as to minimise the need for 'special measures' for an individual child. The preparation of highly customised material can be very time-consuming. In most cases, strategies which make learning easier for one learner benefit the rest as well.
The last column has several functions. In this example, further ways of supporting the autistic learner are shown, together with an indication of the additional resources (human, electronic, other) would be required. This is also the place to note what additional support/resources the language teacher will require in order to carry out the proposed plan of action.
USING THE GRIDS
The Reference Grid does not, of course describe the situation in respect of any particular learner with autism, it deals in generalities and contains too much information to be applied at any one time. To aid the modern language teacher's response to particular learners, the Reference Grid can be used in three ways.
As a reference
Simply use the grid to find ideas to support the autistic learner in your own class.
As a starter
Select from the grid the characteristics which seem most closely to match the learner you are concerned about and concentrate on those. You should, of course, feel free to change and adapt as necessary even those selected details - every learner is different.
As an exemplar
Using a blank grid, and with a specific learner in mind, use the modern languages and special needs expertise available to you in your school to determine a few main points to enter into column 1. Continue your collaboration, combining your skills, knowledge and expertise to fill in the other columns. What you should end up with is a plan of action which has potential to support both you and the learner.
NOTE that the reference grid as it stands is not definitive; there are many more details that could be added, and more rows. Whether you come from a modern languages background or a special needs or support for learning background, you should be able to use your own experience to improve and extend this document for future use in your department or your school. Use the blank grid provided, or make a new one to accommodate your own ideas.
The next stage is to implement the ideas! Don't try and introduce everything all at once. Try one item at a time, and give it time to bed in before moving on to the next one. Use the grid to keep track of progress and to note any changes that you make in practice. Eventually you can use the grid again as an evaluation tool, to see which of the strategies have been successful and which may need to be adjusted.
SUMMARY: PROBLEM SOLVING
The grids are an example of a problem solving reponse to the specific needs of a learner or group of learners. The process is as follows:
1. What’s the problem for this learner/group of learners?
2. What are the implications for their language learning?
3. What strategies could I employ which might help the learner(s) to be successful?
4. What help will I need?
5. How will we know if the strategy has been successful?
For more about teaching foreign languages to learners on the autism spectrum, see Vivienne Wire's page on this site.
If you found this Workshop useful you might like to know that it has been further developed and now forms the basis for Unit 2 of the Maximising Potential programme on the Learning and Teaching Scotland website. Go to: http://www.ltscotland.org.uk/maximisingpotential/unit2/index.asp