INSET at Woolley Wood

This week was a bit of a landmark in terms of the work at Woolley Wood.  On Wednesday 8 staff completed the new five week intensive interaction course and today I delivered a half day INSET session to the whole school team.  I was very happy with the results of both these training strategies which brought to light some interesting things.
I believe that training should be an group investigation.  This can only really work when the the training is about principles rather than plain facts (I talked about principles in the post two weeks ago).  It is important that clear principles underly the practice of Intensive Interaction however it is also true that principles can be somewhat intangible.  For example, in order to understand what ‘Be Responsive’ means, there must be a direct experience that is associated with the concept.  The concept can be introduced on a powerpoint or handout but the experience must be introduced through an practical activity.
The importance of this ‘understanding through practice’ means that the most effective way to make an impact upon staff practice is a programme of regular mentoring that helps staff to place the concepts into a practical context.  The weakness of this however is that it takes time and I can only make contact with a few staff at a time.  The INSET offers the opportunity to bring everyone up to speed at the same time and is a useful strategy to employ alongside the mentoring.  The first half of the INSET therefore comprises of practical activities during which the participants tried to unearth the principles of the work.   Some interesting comments during today’s INSET included:
“Engaging with my partner with the aim of following their lead really made me focus on what they were doing.  I found myself giving more positive eye contact too”
“The way my partner looks helped me trust her”
“It was really difficult to engage my partner when we weren’t at the same level”
“A good leader needs to think about the needs of their partner”
Teacher: “It’s really hard to make dialogue without words” Me: “That’s why we’re here!”
“When my partner wasn’t following me it just felt like we weren’t on the same page”
After the practical work I took the opportunity to introduce the attainment framework that we will be using at Woolley Wood.  This is based on the document produced by Graham Firth and Mark Barber ‘A Framework for Recognising Attainment in Intensive Interaction (2011). In the past I have found using the engagement profile tricky because I found it difficult to resolve (and record) the fact that a learner may have an outstanding moment of interaction yet be at a low general level of communication ability.  I recently figured out how I would like to employ this framework and so the method is to record the level of the best moment during an interaction and also the average level of the interaction.  So far this seems to be a practical way forward.
The staff who completed the 5 week course had the opportunity to look at the attainment record in detail but I was aware that when they returned to their classroom they would find that the rest of the staff knew nothing these method of recording.  My aim with the INSET therefore was to make sure that all of the staff at least knew the basics of the method so that they could share the language with the staff who have done the course.
After introducing the attainment framework I then showed the staff a few videos of interactions that have taken place at the school and then the staff analysed the video in groups with the aim of assigning attainment levels to the best moment and average level of the sessions.  The outcome of this activity was a great deal of very interesting conversation as the staff used their new language and vocabulary to discuss what they had seen.  It was interesting to see that different people made different conclusions about which were the best moments and to begin with some staff disagreed which level should be assigned to which event of the interaction.  The continuing discussion seemed to resolve this as another video was viewed and people had the chance to place the levels in another context.
One very interesting point made by one staff was in response to a video of an interaction that took place between me an autistic boy recently.  She said that to her, one gesture the boy made that I had returned by copying meant that he wanted to be helped up from the floor to a standing position.  She said that if she had been interacting then she would have done this.  She remarked that she only knew this because of her long relationship with the boy and that I had responded differently because I gave his actions a different meaning.  In the video however the boy seems happy with my response and the interaction sustains longer than a typical interaction.  I explained that this seemed to be a nice example of the importance of mindfulness and how it is easy to make assumptions or not see things with a beginners mind. The staff member agreed because she said she would have tried to lift the boy up simply out of habit and would not have seen the opportunity to return his actions in a different way.
The next stage of the work at Woolley Wood is to hold an Intensive Interaction training day for teacher and teaching assistants from other schools.  This will be held on April the 28th and the focus for the day will be to investigate the principles of intensive interaction and explain how intensive interaction is being implemented at Woolley Wood, including the recording methods described above.  Full details can be found here.
INSET is also available for special schools.  Please contact me for further details if you are interested.

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