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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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Blended Learning: From Theory to Practice

blended learning

I have long been interested in ‘Blended Learning’ (BL). It remains a ‘buzz’ term in language teaching, although it means different things to different people. This blog post explores some key aspects of BL.

A good place to start unpacking the various definitions of BL is the ELTJ article ‘Key concepts in ELT: Blended Learning’ (2010). Common definitions include:

  • combining traditional teaching with e-learning
  • combining different methodologies
  • combining different technologies

Despite the range of definitions, it is generally understood that the term refers to a course which combines face-to-face (f2f) classroom teaching with web-based learning. This is the definition I will use in my webinar: Blended Learning: from theory to practice.

Flexibility

BL is fascinating because the concept is based on being responsive to individual contexts. There is no single ‘solution’, but rather many ways to blend classroom teaching and online learning.

Flux

The term is constantly changing. The term ‘virtual blend’ has recently been applied to 100% online courses which use ‘face-to-face online’ teaching in ‘live’ webinars. New, somewhat exotic incarnations of BL have evolved, such as f2f + Virtual Reality (VR). Students away from the class use a headset to do further language practice which complements their lessons.

Why blend?

There are many reasons for transitioning to BL. One common reason is to combine the well-known positives of classroom teaching with the advantages of online learning, considered to be studying at your own pace, at a place of your choice; and ‘differentiation’ – using the online platform as a way of delivering personalized, individual learning.

‘Time’ is another frequently cited reason. There is simply not enough time for language learners to cover everything within the constraints of the class timetable. Indeed, some language areas are best suited to self-study, such as extensive reading and practising difficult phonemes.

Can BL save money? There is huge disagreement on this point. Many commercial organizations cite ‘cost-saving’ as a major argument for blending; however, schools who have moved part of the curriculum online often report additional and unexpected costs including remuneration for online moderation.

Challenges

One of the biggest challenges in setting up a BL course is that the course fails to satisfy anyone’s learning preference. The students who enjoy the class may not contribute to the knowledge building occurring in the online environment, while those who enjoy working online may dislike the time restrictions imposed by the timetable. Learners may not see the link between their lessons and online work. They sometimes perceive the online components to be of lesser value and fail to do the online work. Technical problems can prove de-motivating.

Which LMS?

In recent workshops, I have asked the question: “Which platform do you use?” The range of answers shows the immense diversity of what happens in classrooms around the world. Common is an ‘open-source’ platform like Moodle which is essentially empty unless you create and upload your own materials. Some private language schools have created their own LMS. If you use a coursebook, a sound entry point is the publisher platform, such as Oxford Online.

Comparing LMSs rarely compares ‘like for like’. The platform you know and love may well be disliked or unknown to a colleague. Much depends on your own preferences, familiarity and of course, your school.

The power of data

This summer, I taught with a publisher-produced platform linked to a coursebook. It included tracking tools which allowed me to see data on student performance, such as their scores for each exercise. It was quite a revelation for me, a classroom teacher, to see just what students do on the platform. I’m keen to share my insights in the webinar.

Success with BL

There are four critical factors in working towards a successful BL course appropriacy, complementarity, attitude and training:

  • Appropriacy

Successful BL teachers plan activities which are appropriate to each mode: classroom and online.

Imagine working on a controversial topic. It is appropriate to develop oral fluency in the classroom, through real-time discussion. It is appropriate to work on ‘critical thinking’ through an online forum, giving students more time to reflect, draft and re-compose their written arguments.

  • Complementarity

This refers to the genuine integration of the ‘in-class’ and ‘online’ elements. Sending students individual messages via the platform is a great way to personalise a printed activity in the student coursebook.

  • Attitude

“Apparently, we now have to use this learning platform, so here is your password!”

 This overheard comment evinces a disconnect between a teachers’ beliefs and their practice. The success of a BL course may well ultimately depend on both teachers and students holding positive beliefs about BL itself.

  • Teacher training

Both teachers and students need time to become familiar with online materials and procedures. Teacher training represents an investment in time and money, yet it is an essential factor in making BL work.

Do you run BL courses? If so, which platform do you use? What is your experience? 

The concept of BL is rich and multi-layered. As technology changes, so does BL. Nevertheless, no matter how fast the technology changes, it is principled pedagogy which lies at the heart of a good language course and underlies BL. I’m very much looking forward to exploring this fascinating, key concept in ELT and sharing ideas with teachers around the world.

Register to join me for my webinar!

Please note – this article was written prior to the more widespread impact of the Coronavirus on schools and is therefore focused on blending online and classroom teaching.

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


Pete Sharma is a Director of Pete Sharma Associates Ltd, a consultancy and training organisation: www.psa.eu.com  He works as a pre-sessional lecturer in EAP (English for Academic purposes) at Warwick University, UK. Pete has co-written many books on educational technology in ELT. Click here to visit Pete’s blog.


References

Sharma, P. (2010). Key Concepts in ELT: Blended learning. ELTJ, 64(4), 456-458

Sharma, P. and Barrett, B. (2018) Best Practices for Blended Learning (2018) Hove: Pavilion Publishing and Media Ltd

Whittaker, C., and Tomlinson, B. (Eds.). (2013). Blended learning in English language teaching: Course Design and Implementation London, UK: British Council.


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Assessment activities that help students show what they know | ELTOC 2020

Assessment Activities Most teachers include informal, ongoing assessment as an integral part of their lessons. Noticing what students know and don’t yet know helps us adapt our lessons and teaching strategies. Sometimes teachers hesitate to tell students when they are being assessed because they don’t want students to become anxious. However, if we present these assessment activities as a chance for students to see (and show us) how much they can do in English, they can be something that students look forward to.

Colin Finnerty writes about the importance of providing students with the ‘right level of challenge’ in formal assessment. This is equally important in informal assessment activities, especially in young learner classrooms where teachers are juggling students’ cognitive and physical development, language levels and global skills objectives. Matching assessment activities to student levels can make the difference between a student feeling like a success (and working enthusiastically toward even more success) and feeling like a failure (and giving up on English in frustration).

The simplest way to make sure that your assessments are at an appropriate challenge level is to repurpose activities students are already familiar with. Students can focus on the language or skill you are assessing rather than figuring out what it is that they are supposed to do.

In my ELTOC webinar, we’ll look at different types of activities to assess both language and global skills, but in this blog post, let’s look at how these activities might work for assessing writing. First language writing development commonly categorizes children as emergent, transitional, or fluent writers (Culham, 2005). In foreign language writing development, these levels are determined more by literacy level than by age, because children begin studying English at different ages, some are already literate in their first language, and some are coming from a first language that has a writing system very different English. While writing skills may develop a bit differently in a second or foreign language, the categories are still useful for describing stages of growth.

Assessment activities for pre-literate learners

At this stage, students don’t really write. They are typically developing phonemic awareness of English sounds, and perhaps developing awareness of how the English writing system differs from their own. While you can’t assess a skill they haven’t yet developed, you can give them a picture or photograph and ask them to tell you what they would write if they could. If you want something to add to a portfolio to document growth, you can also record them talking about their pictures.

My name is Max English Assessment

Watch the video on YouTube. Created using Chatterpix.

What is Ririko showing us that she can do? She uses the English she knows in a creative way to talk about the dog, including using a relatively low-frequency word from a phonics lesson (bone). It’s easy to identify areas I might want to focus on in class, I also want Ririko to see what she is able to do so that she can learn to notice her own growth.

Assessment activities for emergent writers

Emergent writers can write with a model that provides a lot of structure, for example personalizing sentences from lessons, like I can _____ in the following example. In writing, they still convey most of their meaning through drawings. To assess their progress, you can ask them to draw a picture and then write using the model to bring the writing challenge to an appropriate level.

Emergent Writers Assessment

Kanna clearly understands that I can ___ is prompting her to talk about abilities. She was able to correctly spell two relatively challenging words (swim and jump) because those were important to her. They helped her communicate something meaningful about her own abilities.

Assessment activities for transitional writers

Students at this level can write somewhat independently when using familiar patterns and words, but often use invented spelling. They may still need illustrations to support what they’re trying to communicate in writing. An appropriate assessment activity is to ask them to draw a simple picture and write what they can about it.

Transitional Writers Assessment

Interestingly, Natsuru can spell ‘like’ correctly on a spelling test and uses plurals with the verb in practice activities but loses that accuracy when she’s writing to communicate. But I am impressed that she created a conversation for her drawing, especially since she hasn’t been explicitly taught any of the conventions that go with writing dialogue.

Assessment activities for fluent writers

Fluent writers can do a lot. They can organize their thoughts in a logical order and their writing usually has a beginning, middle, and end. They are willing to take risks with structures and words they aren’t confident with. Give them a specific topic, and a time limit, and ask them to write as much as they can during that time. Satoshi’s class was asked to write about something that happened during their summer vacation.

Fluent Writers Assessment

Errors like Satoshi’s with prepositions and verbs show his developing understanding of the English language system. These types of errors are sometimes called ‘developmental’ errors “because they are similar to those made by children acquiring English as their first language” (Lightbown and Spada, 2013). I can also see that Satoshi is ready to learn how to use transitions like on the fifth day in his writing. He hasn’t explicitly learned how to use ordinals for telling a story in chronological order so I’m happy to see him include them. I’m thrilled that he was willing to write about something that was meaningful to him, even though he knew he wouldn’t be able to do it perfectly.

If we create a learning environment where assessment activities are opportunities for students to see their own growth, we can also help them learn how to become reflective learners.


Barbara spoke further on this topic at ELTOC 2020. Stay tuned to our Facebook and Twitter pages for more information about upcoming professional development events from Oxford University Press.

You can catch-up on past Professional Development events using our webinar library.

These resources are available via the Oxford Teacher’s Club.

Not a member? Registering is quick and easy to do, and it gives you access to a wealth of teaching resources.


Barbara Hoskins Sakamoto is co-author of the bestselling Let’s Go series, and director of the International Teacher Development Institute (iTDi.pro). She is an English Language Specialist with the U.S. State Department and has conducted teacher training workshops in Asia, Europe, the Americas, and online.


References

Culham, R. (2005). The 6+1 Traits of Writing: The Complete Guide for the Primary Grades. New York: Scholastic.

Lightbown, P. and Spada, N. (2013). How Languages are Learned. Fourth edition. Oxford: Oxford University Press.


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8 easy steps to using project-based learning in the classroom

Two robots holding handsStudents are always fascinated with the idea of time travel and understanding the relationship between the past and the future. I remember as a child both burying and discovering time capsules full of cultural treasures and personal stories.

We have used the theme of time relationships and time capsules in this lesson plan to encourage students to understand and communicate with the past and send students in the past information about their lives now.

This lesson plan is based on a PBL (Project-Based Learning) cycle and for its output students are encouraged to work towards some form of poster or digital document that tells students of the past about the things they feel are important in the present day.

Students can use these posters and documents to enter The Project Competition 2020.

We hope you enjoy working through this project with your students and that they enjoy thinking about life in the past and how our lives have changed.

 

Download the Lesson Plan

 


 

Nik Peachey is a freelance writer, blogger, teacher trainer and consultant specialising in digital publishing, online course development and the development of digital resources for teachers. He has been involved in English language teaching since 1992 and has worked all over the world as a teacher, trainer and project manager. In 2016 after winning his second British Council Award for Innovations (ELTon) he co-founded PeacheyPublications Ltd.

Nik Peachey was manager of the British Council’s TeachingEnglish website from 2003 to 2007, Global Head of Learning for Macmillan’s online English school EnglishUp from 2014 to 2016. From 2017 – 2018 he worked with Eton College on their EtonX program of soft skills courses and later in 2018 he worked with Kings College London Online developing content for their master’s level Financial Law courses. He has co-edited with Alan Maley two books on creativity – ‘Integrating Global Issues in the Creative English Language Classroom’ and ‘Creativity in the English Language Classroom’ and published ten more through his own company.


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Combining the Four Cs | ELTOC 2020

Here we’ll discuss the role of creativity, critical thinking, communication and collaboration in the English language classroom, and suggest some practical ideas for giving students a challenging new take on these familiar concepts.

Global Skills

Life in the twenty-first century can be complex and stressful. Many of the interpersonal and interactive skills that we need in our everyday lives – things such as digital literacies, intercultural competence, and emotional self-regulation – have not always been formally taught in schools. The movement to embrace Global Skills in education is now looking to change that.

OUP’s Position Paper on Global Skills is a concise guide for empowering students inside the classroom – and beyond. It acts as a guide for teachers who would like to help equip their students with strategies for dealing with the challenges and opportunities of twenty-first century life.

From Four Cs to five skills clusters

Global Skills include Communication and Collaboration and Creativity and Critical Thinking as two of the key skills clusters, and these are concepts which will already be familiar to anyone who is acquainted with the Partnership for 21st Century Learning, in which they were grouped together as Learning Skills and referred to as The Four Cs.

OUP’s Global Skills are made up of five distinct skills clusters. If you would like to know more about the other three skills clusters of Global Skills – which are Intercultural Competence and Citizenship, Emotional Self-Regulation and Wellbeing, and Digital Literacies – see the OUP Position Paper.

Fresh perspectives

The skills of communication, collaboration, creativity and critical thinking are as important as ever, not only because they can have a positive impact on language proficiency, but also because they can be applied to the challenges of everyday life.

Communication and Collaboration

Why are they grouped together in Global Skills?

Learning to communicate involves being able to negotiate meaning – something which requires interacting with another person or people. And when we collaborate with someone else, both in the classroom and in real-life contexts, there is usually communication involved. The two skills therefore connect, and can very often be dependent on each other.

Pairwork and groupwork

The easiest way to generate conditions for collaboration is to get students to work together in pairs or in small groups. In order to ensure that there is communication as well, students need to share or exchange ideas in some way. Let’s look at a simple example.

Recalling an image

Show students the image below and ask them to pay attention to the small details. (Image source: Oxford Discover Futures, SB1, p86)

After about thirty seconds, remove the picture from view and get students into pairs. Thirty seconds is not very long, which means that students will probably have only a partial memory of the poster. Ask them to work together and recall as much as they can. Ask if they can remember:

  • the words on the poster – and the colour of each word
  • the shape of the figure – and what each ‘body part’ consists of

Some students are more observant than others – but the ones who remember the most do not always have the English with which to express all the information. For this reason, it is likely that students will use L1 to negotiate the answers to the prompts as they gather the English words that they need in order to complete their lists.

Communication and collaboration in action

This simple task mirrors real-life situations in which we need the help of someone else in order to piece together information and fill in the gaps with our own knowledge. The transfer of information is ‘communication’. The pair work is ‘collaboration’. Students help each other as they complete the task, while also checking each other, and correcting each other, as appropriate. Communication and collaboration go hand in hand.

Creativity and Critical Thinking

Why are they grouped together?

Creativity is the art of thinking – it is based on inspiration, intuition and subjective expression. Critical thinking is the science of thinking – it is based on reason, analysis, and evidence-informed judgements. As skills, they are complementary aspects of thinking outside the box, whether that involves coming up with something new, or seeing something that others have missed. Again, let’s take a look at a simple example.

Comparing posters

Show students all four of the posters related to diet shown below. (Image source: Oxford Discover Futures, SB1, p86)

Now give them the following statements to discuss. Ask them to express their ideas, listen to each other’s views, and then try to reach an agreement, by modifying the statements, if necessary.

  • the posters have nothing in common
  • the posters appeal to emotions, not intellect
  • the posters are intended for children
  • the most effective poster is poster ____
  • the least effective poster is poster ____

Finally, ask them to come up with a new poster of their own, designed to raise awareness of the importance of a healthy diet.

Creativity and Critical Thinking in action

The prompts above do more than check students’ comprehension of the posters; they engage their critical faculties, too. The statements are likely to be divisive, and students might well disagree with each other. Establishing the truth of what they can agree on will require negotiation and compromise, as well as creative recasting of some of the statements. Most interestingly, students will have to consider whether they want to change their initial beliefs in the light of information received from others. That is the kind of critical thinking that can be reached through communicative, collaborative classroom processes.

The final task – the design of a new poster – is an example of a creative task that extends naturally out of the tasks that have preceded it. The task combines language skills and non-language skills, so all students have a chance to make a meaningful contribution. Done collaboratively, it will generate further opportunities for communication, collaboration and critical thinking, too.

Double duty

We don’t need extra lessons to teach global skills, nor do we need to separate language skills from global skills. The activities above demonstrate that the learning tasks of the classroom can be asked to perform double duty: to generate opportunities to practise language and to develop students’ global skills.


Edmund spoke further on this topic at ELTOC 2020. Stay tuned to our Facebook and Twitter pages for more information about upcoming professional development events from Oxford University Press.

You can catch-up on past Professional Development events using our webinar library.

These resources are available via the Oxford Teacher’s Club.

Not a member? Registering is quick and easy to do, and it gives you access to a wealth of teaching resources.


Edmund Dudley is a teacher trainer, materials writer and teacher of English with more than 25 years of classroom experience. Based in Budapest, he has extensive experience of teaching EFL at both primary and secondary levels. He works with teachers from around the world as a freelance teacher trainer and as a tutor at the University of Oxford’s ELT Summer Seminar. He is the author of ETpedia Teenagers (2018, Pavilion Publishing) and co-author of Mixed-Ability Teaching (2015, Oxford University Press).