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Girls and Autism: Tips and Activities to Support Your Learners

group of girls and boys at school

What is autism? You may or may not have taught individuals in your English language teaching classrooms with autism. Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is linked to brain development and can affect the way learners socialise, communicate, and behave.

Did you know? Many girls go undiagnosed with autism or are diagnosed later in life because they present differently to boys. By this, I mean they behave in a different way that may cover up the signs. For boys, their autism is often externally expressed, whereas girls tend to conceal or internalise what is worrying them.

 

Masking or camouflaging: what do they mean?

When a girl ‘masks’ or ‘camouflages’ she essentially modifies her behaviour. This might be in an attempt to fit in with her peers, for example copying the behaviour or voice of a classmate, in order to be similar to the group. It may also be her way of hiding her autism or the anxiety she is feeling in order to appear calm on the surface. This means girls can spend a lot of time covering up their emotions, which must be extremely exhausting (and as teachers we certainly know how this feels!)

In fact, girls with autism are often very good at making eye contact and holding conversations, which you don’t typically expect with autism. And unlike boys, their special interest subjects tend to be similar to their ‘neurotypical’ peers, for example horses or boy bands, making it difficult at times to spot autistic traits.

 

A few tips for including learners with autism: 

1) Listen

Every girl (and boy) with autism is different. They often say their brains are wired differently so they may learn in unconventional ways. It is important to remember that what works for one learner might not necessarily work for another.

2) Support

Statistically, learners with special educational needs are more likely to develop mental health issues. As we know, there are a multitude of pressures on young girls, so openly discussing mental health and managing anxiety is essential.

3) Strengthen

Girls with autism tend to struggle with self-worth and self-belief. Helping girls become aware of their sensory issues and emotions and how to regulate these helps them understand themselves and others.

4) Talk, talk, talk…

As teachers, we’re pretty good at this one! In order to overcome the lack of knowledge in this area, we need to discuss autism. We need to speak to colleagues and parents/carers, search for and share information, but most importantly we need to talk to our students and learn from them.

 

Practical activities (expanded from Into the Classroom: Special Educational Needs)

REMEMBER: Not every activity works for every student, it’s important to get to know your learners and understand what works best for them.

1) You’re the expert

Ask students to prepare a presentation on their special interest subject. Ask the rest of the class to ask questions. If learners don’t feel comfortable presenting to the class, why not get them to video and edit a short clip? Or run a Facebook Live, you could direct the conversation, but this may be less daunting for those who are anxious as they can join from elsewhere.

2) Name the feeling

Make pairs of cards with 1) photos of people expressing different feelings (according to students’ age and ability and 2) cards with the words that best describe the feelings.

Older students can play this game as ‘pelmanism’.

3) Pelmanism: Create pairs of cards where one card has a picture of a vocabulary item, and the other has the written word. Students place the cards face down on the table and take it in turns trying to find a matching pair by turning over two cards at a time. If players find a match, they keep it and have another go. If they don’t, they turn the cards face down again. Older students can practise homophones or homonyms, or match verbs with their tense forms.

 

Bonus activity: Tell me a story

Social stories and/or comic strips are a great way to engage learners. They can help children with autism in a number of ways, from teaching them how to behave in certain situations to developing their social skills. Why not get your students to draw or design stories of their own?

 

Want to find out more about autism and special educational needs? Get your hands on our Inclusive Practices position paper:

Download the position paper

 


References

  • Autism.org.uk.(2020) Autism Support – Leading UK Charity – National Autistic Society [online]. Available at: https://www.autism.org.uk
  • Carpenter, B, Happé, F, and Egerton, J. (2019) Girls and Autism: Educational, Family and Personal Perspectives. New York: Routledge
  • Delaney, M. (2016) Into the Classroom: Special Educational Needs. 1st ed: Oxford University Press
  • Sutherland, R, Hodge, A, Bruck, S, Costley, D, Klieve, H (2017) Parent-reported differences between school-aged girls and boys on the autism spectrum. Volume: 21 issue 6: 785-794.

 

Leanne Atherton is a further education lecturer with experience of teaching both in the UK and internationally. She qualified in post 16 education at City of Bath College and has ELT experience teaching young learners in Thailand and aboriginal students in Australia. She holds a TEFL qualification, a PCGE PCET and is currently studying for her Masters of Education (Special Educational Needs) in Oxford.


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Rigor, Routines and the Real (Global) Skills

The five Global SkillsAdvanced-level English language instruction focuses on helping adults achieve the language proficiency they need to transition out of their English language lessons onto their educational or career paths, engage with their communities, and advocate successfully for themselves and their families. One of the gifts of teaching at this level is the ability to communicate the adult education principles at the heart of our instructional design.

We can overtly demonstrate respect for learners’ prior knowledge and build upon that knowledge to address essential questions that transcend basic skills. We can provide the tasks and projects that support self-directed and rigorous inquiry alongside the development of language strategies that are critical to learners’ successful language skill development.[i]  We can also share evidence of the direct connection between learners’ future goals, 21st-century adult life, and essential language strategies along with an array of global skills (i.e., communication and collaboration, creativity and critical thinking, intercultural competence and citizenship, emotional self-regulation and well-being, and digital literacies.)

Routines and Rigor

Of course, even with all the opportunities and advantages of the advanced-level class, instructors have the universal challenge of finding the time to plan for—and teach—units of instruction with rigorous, relevant, high-interest, skill- and strategy-building lessons. One workaround is to look at task-types and routines that naturally incorporate a number of the language strategies and global skills advanced learners need. Routines that accompany task types help learners be intentional in their use of skills and strategies and, with a few tweaks, a routine can also provide additional rigor.

Consider a lecture and note-taking task. This type of task typically includes a wealth of language strategies, e.g., focusing on the speaker’s opening and closing statements to identify the gist of the lecture, using clues in the oral text to identify key ideas for note-taking, paraphrasing information in notes, summarizing the speaker’s ideas, and using the content of the lecture to address a question or problem. This task process is rigorous in its own right. However, if we add the routine of comparing and clarifying the lecture notes with a classmate through a Turn and Talk, we can increase the rigor of that routine by requiring that learners:

  1. use academic language during the exchange,
  2. reach consensus on the most important points in the lecture, and
  3. cite evidence to support their view,

and now we’ve incorporated opportunities to use English to demonstrate collaboration, clarification, consensus building, and critical thinking skills—real skills for the world outside the classroom.

A research-and-report task is another example that incorporates numerous language strategies, e.g., previewing complex text to determine if it meets the reader’s needs, scanning text for necessary information, note-taking to record sources, outlining or organizing ideas for an oral report, using intonation to help the listener identify important information, etc.  Not surprisingly, this task requires critical thinking to select, analyze, and evaluate information. Some routines that would increase learners’ use of other global skills and heighten the rigor of the task include having learners:

  1. take on roles requiring decision making,  team management, and resource management,
  2. use a checklist as they research to confirm the validity of their sources and build information literacy skills, or
  3. use a mobile device to record, rehearse, and upload team reports to increase digital skills.students in class asking questions

Rigor and Scaffolds

Of course, all classes have learners at different levels of proficiency. Even if the class level is fairly homogeneous, learners experiencing a task or routine for the first time will need support to be successful. The following scaffolds are just some of the ways to support learners as they engage with the rigorous requirements of a task:

  • provide graphic organizers with prompts and/or some sections filled in to help learners organize their thinking,
  • post charts with academic language stems and frames for use in discussions and writing tasks,
  • create checklists with the task instructions for learners to reference as they work,
  • reveal the steps of a task in stages rather than all at once, and
  • show examples of the task product created in previous classes.

Routines and Novelty

Using a repertoire of routines and task-types can streamline planning and allows advanced learners to regularly cycle through the skills and strategies they need, rather than approaching global skill development as a “one and done” process.  When we add rigor to our routines and tasks, we ensure a connection between the academic, civic, and work-place routines and tasks our advanced learners will perform outside the classroom. The rigor in the routines and tasks gives learners a global skills “work out.”

Even with these benefits, some instructors might equate routine with a lack of novelty—knowing that novelty is an important factor in learning.[iii] The trick is to employ tasks and routines to help learners engage with an array of essential questions, complex and high-interest texts and media, and thought-provoking prompts. This juxtaposition of rigorous routines and complex content encourages learners to make novel connections between ideas: the learners and content provide the source of the novelty essential to motivation and retention.[iv]

Advanced level learners have a wide variety of transition goals. When they have the opportunity to demonstrate and refine global skills such as strategic thinking, planning, problem-solving, creativity, and collaboration, alongside their language skill development, they are more likely to see the connection between their classwork and their future goals. When they engage with rigorous routines and tasks, they are better prepared to apply their global and language skills in the complex world outside their classroom’s walls.

In her webinar “Picture This: Promoting English Language Learners’ Access to Online Language Teaching” on April 1, Jayme will discuss tools to teach your students online and how to incorporate global skills.

Register for the webinar

 



Jayme Adelson-Goldstein is a teacher educator and curriculum consultant. Her work focuses on supporting adult English language instructors with rigorous and contextualized task-based, problem-based, and/or project-based instruction. She is currently working with the American Institutes for Research (AIR) on The Skills That Matter project. Jayme’s publications include The Oxford Picture Dictionary and Step Forward. She also hosts the podcast Oxford Adult ESL Conversations. 


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Online Teaching Part 3: Tips to Engage and Motivate Students

teenager using a tablet in the libraryOnline teaching has been becoming more and more prominent in recent years, but for many of us, we’ve been suddenly thrown into it due to the Coronavirus outbreak. The conversation usually starts with which apps and platforms to use, but it’s important to remember these are only tools; how you use them is what makes or breaks the class. Once you’ve chosen your software, it’s all about keeping the students engaged and willing to work together online. Here are a few online teaching tips to get you started.

Ease students into working online

With a new online class, don’t throw them into a digital project straight away. We need to make sure that the students can use the software before doing any substantial learning tasks. But let’s be honest, most of us don’t read through instruction manuals, let alone remember anything from then. Instead, design some language tasks that have a duel aim of introducing the platforms as well.

  • Using a message board to communicate? Use an ‘order the instructions’ reading task for how to post to it, and then ask them to post their answers on the message board.
  • Using ‘break out rooms’? Ask the students to quickly go into break out room and answer a short ‘getting to know you’ or ‘catching-up’ questionnaire with their partner
  • Using email to communicate? Start off with a quick introduction or sharing of what you’ve been doing since you last saw each other and make sure they’re remembering to reply all (or not!)
  • Raise hand function in your webinar platform? Play a quick ‘Raise your hand if…’ warmer (“Raise your hand if you like coffee” “Raise your hand if you got up before 7 am”) at the start of the lesson

These tasks have clear language aims so the students are still motivated to complete them. The real objective though is getting students used to the systems. If you don’t make sure that they can use the systems early, it’ll become a distraction later and get in the way of their learning as you move onto more complex activities.

Build their confidence online

One of the great features of online teaching is that many people feel more confident to speak out. For many standing in front of a group of people and talking is their worst nightmare, but those same people might be quite happy to post on Twitter for the whole world to see.

But, especially in the early stages, it can be easy to damage this. Without face-to-face interactions, criticism can be harsh and encouraging smiles can be missing. Be liberal with your praise and clear with your suggestions.

  • Use a mixture of public and private praise; a short “Well done with…” instant message can go a long way for boosting confidence.
  • Avoid correcting in public during the beginning stages of a course (on the spot corrections can be sent as a private message).
  • Encourage interaction on the message board by setting tasks that require students to comment on posts: find someone who used a word you don’t know and ask them what it means, or tell two people why you liked their post (and make sure you are as well!)
  • Make sure you’ve introduced appropriate etiquette for your students to use online. Simple things like using an emoticon after peer correcting or giving suggestions can soften the tone.

Provide clear instructions

Giving clear instructions may sound obvious, but because it’s a lot harder to monitor your students during online lessons, clear instructions become even more critical during an online class. Take your time setting up activities to avoid the loss of motivation that comes from students feeling like they wasted time doing something wrong.

  1. Tell the students the objective of the activity. Keep it short and straightforward and aim for a sentence: “let’s circle five unknown words”; “Let’s brainstorm ideas for our poster.”
  2. Demonstrate the activity. If possible, show the students an example of the activity being done and ‘think out loud’ as you do it: “Here’s a word I don’t know, it’s before a noun so it’s an adjective…”
  3. Show and say the instructions step by step. Recap the instructions step by step, ideally as bullet points. Keep your language short and sweet.
  4. Check they understand before starting. Ask some questions to make sure they’re clear: “How long do you have?” “Where do you post your answers?” You can set questions to the whole group to quickly make sure they know what to do and help recap for those who might not (websites like kahoot.com can be great for this).

 

Please visit our Learn at Home page to find online teaching resources and activities to help teachers, parents and students get the most out of learning at home.

For more tips on getting started with Online Teaching see Part 1 of our Online Teaching series.


David Stevenson is originally from the UK but has been working in Education in China for the past ten years. He is the Senior Professional Development Manager at Oxford University Press, Mainland China and his particular areas of interest are developing student autonomy with young learners and helping teachers take research and apply it to their classrooms.


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Online Teaching Part 2: Practical Tips for English Language Lessons

man smiling while using a laptop

Getting started

When it comes to planning your first lesson remember ‘less is more.’ Since it’s likely to be the first online lesson for you and your students, things will probably take longer than you think.  As good as online teaching is at bringing people together, there are often little niggly issues, but don’t panic as this is quite normal. For example, some can’t easily connect to the room; students can’t hear you and so on.  If it is the very first lesson, then dedicate most of it to getting to grips with the platform. In future lessons always plan an activity at the start of the lesson that isn’t crucial to the lesson as a whole – this activity can ‘buy’ the time needed to make sure everyone has connected and issues with audio etc. are ironed out.

Online teaching activities to include

As your students are likely to have a coursebook, don’t be afraid to use it.  Obviously, things need a little adaptation to the online environment. For example, I perhaps wouldn’t get everyone online just to do a coursebook reading. Instead, I would ask them to do it before the lesson or for homework.  Listening should work the same way. Most platforms allow you to share your sound, so rather than press play on the classroom device, simply press play on your computer.

Teaching grammar or vocabulary can be done using the coursebook, whiteboard or a PowerPoint. Many online teachers I know also screen share Google docs or Microsoft OneNote files that get students working collaboratively. By giving them the link, and then using screen share to display, students can see each other’s work.  That said, getting the student to write on paper and hold it up to the screen is also very effective.   Remember if the camera is on they can see you, so this allows you to use typical teaching tools such as flashcards by simply hold it up to the camera for all to see.

Managing student feedback

One of the trickier things is checking answers or doing feedback. This is where the ‘Hands up’ function helps.  For gap fills, get them to write on the whiteboard or annotate a slide, or type their answers into the chatbox. Try to avoid situations where just one student is talking for any length of time. When this happens in your usual classroom, students switch off, and this is amplified online.

If you’re going to do pair work or group work then put the students in breakout rooms. These are spaces within a room that allow people to talk without anyone else hearing often when you activate them the software automatically allocates people into a room so saving you time. Therefore you switch on the function, press the button and off they go into pairs. Now you can jump in and out of their spaces to monitor them just as you would in your usual classroom.  Well okay… you wouldn’t jump in and out but you see what I mean.

Managing expectations for your first online class

My final advice would be to you as the teacher.  For many of us, it’s hard to remember what we felt like when we first started teaching but your first lesson online is going to feel a bit like that.  When I am training new teachers, one of the things they seem to dread is silence and when we move online this fear comes back, but silence is fine. There is nothing wrong with setting the students a task from the coursebooks and you switching off your mic and camera while they do it. It’s a chance for you to collect your thoughts and probably take a much-needed sip of water. Likewise, timing is going feel odd so don’t worry about getting through your whole plan each time. Plans, be it for an online class or face to face, are just guides anyway.

All the skills and confidence you have built up over the years will feel a little compromised in this new online world. But don’t panic, it is the norm.  Don’t chastise yourself that things could have gone smoother in that first lesson; it may be true but remember things probably didn’t go perfectly in that very first lesson face to face either. However, after a few lessons, everything began to feel natural, just as it will in this new environment.  Good luck and don’t forget to wash your hands.

 

Please visit our Learn at Home page to find online teaching resources and activities to help teachers, parents and students get the most out of learning at home:

 

Learn at Home

 

For more tips on getting started with Online Teaching see Part 3 of our Online Teaching series.


Shaun Wilden is the Academic Head of training and development for the International House World Organisation and a freelance teacher, teacher trainer and materials writer.  He currently specialises in technology and language teaching, especially in the area of mobile learning. His latest book “Mobile Learning” was published in 2017 by OUP.  He is a trustee of IATEFL and also on the committee of the Learning technologies special interest group.  He makes the TEFL commute podcast for teachers.


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Online Teaching Part 1: Getting Started | Shaun Wilden

Online teaching in practice - a teacher and students connecting online As an unprecedented virus makes its way around the world playing havoc with teachers’ schedules, educators are looking into how to use technology as a way of filling the gap left by the closure of many schools. If you’re one of them then the first question you need to ask yourself is do you want to fill that gap in a synchronous or asynchronous way.  Or in other words, do you want to use online teaching to get the class together at the same time in a virtual classroom (synchronous) or are will you be sending out work to the students to do in their own time and report back (asynchronous).  In this post, I’ll give you some advice about getting started synchronously.

Choosing a platform to communicate with your students

The first question is probably what software are you going to use. There are many platforms to choose from, each with their own advantages and disadvantages, and going over each would make for a very long post. Given that you probably need to move quickly don’t have much time for training, I imagine you need something relatively simple. You could, for example, simply use Skype; it allows for video, text chat, screen sharing, and recording. Additional features like ‘meet now’ would allow you to put all your students in one group. The downside though is that not everyone uses Skype and it can lead to the sharing of contact details.

If your school uses Google Classroom then you can use Google Hangouts which you will find as part of that.  Zoom, a platform many schools I’ve been working with have turned to this week, is free to use for 40 minutes but for large classes, a school will need paid accounts.  One advantage of it is that people simply click on a link to join, and it has a feature called breakout rooms to use for pair and group work, plus you can make different ‘rooms’ useful for different classes.  What I like about Zoom is that it has so much support online that it is easy to get started. I am not endorsing any of these platforms, in particular, just pointing out that they’re free.  There are many more but whichever you choose, first and foremost in your mind will be “what best fits the needs of my students?”

Additional technology you’ll need

Aside from an online teaching platform, what else do you need?  Well, a good internet connection helps. These days we are all used to WiFi and this will usually do, but if you can attach your computer to a cabled network this will make for much better stability.  Bear in mind also that, depending on your countries situation, the internet is getting heavily used. If everyone is confined to their homes then naturally they’re all online and this can cause a bit of slow down here and there.

Your computer probably already has a built-in camera and you’ll need that as students will want to see you.  Will you want to see them? If so, then they will need cameras too. However, bear in mind it is the camera that takes up a lot of the bandwidth in a connection so too many cameras could lead to issues.  As well as seeing you, students will need to hear you and you hear them. While computers have built-in mics, I strongly recommend you use a headset. The one you got with your mobile phone will do the trick.   The advantages of headsets are two-fold; the mic is closer to your mouth and more importantly everyone wearing headphones will limit the amount of feedback that can be caused by everyone having a mic on.

Getting set up to teach your first online teaching lesson

My final tip for getting started is to consider where you are going to teach from.  As many of you are possibly being confined to homes, think about where you are going to sit. You need to be away from distractions such as pets or kids. Being on camera you also need to make sure that what’s behind you doesn’t give away anything private about you. Finally, you need to make sure that your chosen location has a good light source.

Once you’re set up and ready to go, take some time to have a play around your platform. Push some buttons, see what things do. Don’t be afraid, it’s pretty hard to break an online classroom.  You can also use your platform to meet up with your colleagues. Not only will this give you an idea of what’s it like to have a class but working together lets you share advice.  You can set each other quizzes to test how well you can do things, i.e. ‘how do you turn on the mic’, ‘can you show how to use the whiteboard’ and so on. My one extra tip here is don’t try and learn everything in one go. Keep the first lessons as simple as you can.

From this not only will you feel more confident but you’ll also be to help students when they first come to the platform. Additionally, if you write down some of the answers you can turn them into a ‘getting started’ information sheet that you can send to students.  It can also help you come up with some classroom rules. For example, when you’re not speaking turn off your mic or, if you want to speak, put up your hand first.

Get practical tips for planning your online language lessons in part 2 of my online teaching guide here!

 

Please visit our Learn at Home page to find online teaching resources and activities to help teachers, parents and students get the most out of learning at home:

Learn at Home

 


Shaun Wilden is the Academic Head of training and development for the International House World Organisation and a freelance teacher, teacher trainer and materials writer.  He currently specialises in technology and language teaching, especially in the area of mobile learning. His latest book “Mobile Learning” was published in 2017 by OUP.  He is a trustee of IATEFL and also on the committee of the Learning technologies special interest group.  He makes the TEFL commute podcast for teachers.