Monday, 28 April 2014

CPD at its best

 CPD Monday

My Boss, who is very enlightened and really believes in offering good quality CPD to his staff, came up trumps today. The teachers have been complaining recently of students who seemed at odds with the norms we expected from them.  We are trying to promote inclusion in society today, so we need to have advice on how to handle people who are different to make sure that their experience is safe and positive.

So he organised a visit from Autism Jersey to help us recognise, and find out how to deal with, students whose brains are wired differently. .
We were visited by two practitioners. One deals with high functioning individuals, and the other with people who have more difficulty in their day-to-day life. The latter, C, did his CertTESOL with me many years ago and has an affection for the college, which meant that he was only to happy to help and has promised his support should we need advice in the future.

Autism:the facts 

Autism belongs to a raft of problems which come under the heading of Pervasive Development Disorders. Most of us are termed neuro-typical, whereas neurologically,  in certain conditions the brain is wired differently. This led to misdiagnosis in certain cases,  which are only now being recognised as being part of the autism spectrum. 
The new rules have abolished the part of the spectrum known formerly as Aspergers. It is now seen as high-performing autism, in a scale of many forms of the syndrome. This has led to some problems, with some people who were diagnosed as such in the past feeling that they have lost their identity.

As was pointed out : Once you have met one person with Autism, you have met one person with Autism. There is a great variation in the degree to which people have the condition.

How can it be recognised?

One of the most important alarm signals is the inability to relate socially to other people. The list was presented as follows:
  • Unresponsiveness to people
  • Lack of attention to people
  • Lack of eye contact
  • Lack of behaviour appropriate for cultural norms
  • Lack of awareness of others' feelings
  • Lack of social imagination
  • Lack of social perceptiveness
An example was given of a worker who went to the pub with his colleagues after work on Fridays. He didn't pick up the cultural norm of having a couple of drinks and then going home, as he was unable to make sense of the things we are aware of without being told. The poor man would stay in the pub, drinking until closing time, until someone drew his attention to how to behave- and changed his habit.

Boys are four times more likely to present with symptoms- although girls can also be better at masking the problems.

Language and communication

Apart from the social difficulties, language difficulties can constitute another major set of problems. These communication difficulties are:
  • Preverbal communication
  • Non-verbal communication
  • Abnormalities in speech
  • Talking too much, with no social turn-taking
  • Echolalia ( the need to repeat the last word heard. eg. Would you like tea or coffee? Coffee. Coffee or tea? Tea)
  • Metaphorical language (Literal meaning)
  • Sarcasm and humour
Again we were given examples : There was a woman who panicked when her boss asked her to pop her head through the door !!
It was pointed out that a person with autism starts the day with a 75% stress load. This could mean misdiagnosis as an anxiety disorder.


Many autism sufferers have a wide sensory need. This is being recognised more, as the guidelines are being rewritten according to new evidence. These people may have hyper or hypo sensations. eg. The person who can drink boiling hot drinks without feeling the heat, or the child who didn't realise he had broken his arm, or the one to whom a touch on the arm felt as if he'd been run over by a bus.

Intelligence and special talents (specific abilities in autism)

Special abilities are sometimes associated with children with autism.
  • Unusual drawing ability
  • Musical ability
  • Rote memory
  • Calculation skills
  • Calendar calculation
Again an example was given of a man taking part in a pub quiz. The category was American Presidents. This was a particular speciality of one of C's charges. But he not only knew the answer to the question of which president, he could tell you how long, and which dates he was in power, who he ran against, how many votes secured his place,his wife, children, and dog's names...

The Triad

. This shows the three main areas, being changed at the moment to include the sensory field too, of impairments.
 Social and emotional interaction, Imagination and flexibility of thought, and Social communication and language.
 In 1979 Lorna Wing and Judith Gould published a paper which identified these as the three core areas which people with autism might present with.
It was shown that the triad is almost always accompanied by some, if not all of the following:
  • rituals, compulsions, routines, obsessions or very particular special interests ( like the man with the knowledge of US presidents)
  • inflexibility of thought and a resistance to change
  • significant sensory and language processing problems and sensory differences
  • anxiety

How can it be diagnosed?

It should always be diagnosed by experts. In the case of children, normally a team of educational experts should be asked to do evaluations. It is foolish in the extreme to try any of the online self-tests.  The alarm bells should ring in the presence of unusual developmental and behavioural features, or in the absence of what would be considered normal, particularly if these co-occur.

The SPELL framework:

It stands for:Structure,Positive approaches and expectations,Empathy,Low arousal and Links with other professionals
This attempts to understand and respond to the unique needs of the individual with autism by applying holistic principles of what is understood to be best practice. It is the foundation for all other interventions or approaches and creates an autism friendly environment. In fact- if it is friendly to people with autism, then it will generally be helpful to everyone :-) 

What does this mean for teachers?

  1. First of all we need to make our classroom a safe environment.  The problem of low arousal means that we need to keep clutter in the classroom to a minimum, or risk increasing the student's anxiety level.
  2. If verbal language is a problem it is advisable to use a picture exchange to help them explain things they can't verbalise.
  3. Rules and routine are very important. This means that moving students around in class to make new pairs is very counter-productive and may lead to a meltdown.
  4. If you need students to complete an activity: set clear rules, explain in minimal language, give a time limit.
  5. Plan risk management before class so that you will find solutions for any problems which could develop.
  6. Do offer new opportunities, but explain the concept very well beforehand. The idea is to stretch, not stress. Show pictures of new concepts to familiarise before trying out.
  7. Keep classroom routines similar, but not too rigid, as this will create its own set of problems if changes need to be made at a future point.
  8. If students, or their parents, are aware of their triggers for deteriorating behaviour, or have access to a sensory report, it would be helpful for you to have the information.
  9. If meltdown looks imminent, use familiar distractors to avoid problems : Look here is your DS...
  10. If a meltdown occurs, it will be from an overload of anxiety. Remember that the poor student started the day with a level of 75% so it doesn't take much to mess with the routine and overload the level. This is not always a bad thing as it will help you judge things for the future- but if you can distract your student-good. If not, try to find a quiet place where they can settle down. Make sure that it is not full of clutter, and don't touch the student. If all else fails, send the others out of your room for a few minutes.
Above all- keep the communication lines open with all concerned: Parents,colleagues, other professionals and don't feel that you have to go it alone.

Sunday, 27 April 2014

Project 52 Week 17


Today was Easter Sunday. One of my favourite things about the holiday is the fact that everyone has Monday off , except me!, so they have time to come to dinner. One of my favourite people is gluten intolerant, and it is the easiest meal to prepare for her: Jersey lamb, jersey royals, spring cabbage and something chocolatey for pudding. I had to check the labels on the chocolate first, of course :) Luckily I found a gluten-free Easter egg as I hadn't realised that the Lindt Bunnies were okay, but not the ones containing hazelnuts :-(


Well, some of us had to go to work. Cairis and M had the luxury of another day off and decided to move my furniture around to accommodate the sofa bed. Normally it lives in our office, but it had been taken downstairs for Cairis to sleep on when we had visitors, as they had her double bed. They decided that it weighed too much to take back up so , as it was a sofa, it could stay in the sitting room. I came home to find that they had blocked off the fireplace-  okay at the moment as it has really warmed up-and I now have a room full of an eclectic mix of furniture!


Today the forecast was for a dry sunny day. Perfect weather for painting the newly repaired wall. It now shows up the part that hasn't been redone, and so will need a bit more work. I have also decided to repaint the door. The yellow is a bit dull. I haven't chosen the colour yet, but I need to go lighter than my favourite red, as the sun fades dark colours quickly in the summertime.


Everywhere I look today I can see signs of summer arriving. The island is beautiful in a range of greens and vibrant colours. These are the trees edging the college car park. They change colour in the autumn, but I love the freshness of them at this time of year. My trees are just starting to open their leaves. My garden seems to be delayed this year compared to everyone else, but my lavender is starting to turn blue, which is early. There was no #ELTchat tonight as everyone seems to be away doing other things.


 Tyson in Canada set up a webinar on his blog. The speaker was Chia Suan Chong, who is always interesting to listen to. Ebony has been a bit of a pain when I am working at the computer, so I put her bed next to me and she was quite obligingly curled up to sleep.She has really taken to the bed there, and I find that, as long as I am somewhere around, she is perfectly happy to stay in it. Look at her fluffy tail which hung out when she wriggled round in her sleep:-)


Today was the start of the Virtual Round Table sessions. This week  seems to be full of online activity. I joined in for a short while, but had to leave to get to the pub for some music. We were just tuning up when my students arrived in the bar. I hadn't realised that they had gone there for dinner. They stayed and listened for a while, and then left to go back to their Host families. The pub was very quiet after the diners left, but custom picked up later in the evening. We were a select few, as some of the musicians were away for the Easter break.


 Today was spent helping Cairis to organise her cupboard space. To be fair, we had just chucked everything in when we moved her stuff down. She was in China and we had no idea what she would want to keep or dispose of. It was a long session, but very worthwhile. I just need the courage to do it in some of the other cupboards in the house :-( I had time to pop out for a haircut, and met M to help him buy a new suit. He likes my advice, but I'm sure he could do it himself. We went down in the late afternoon to check on his boat. The start of the racing season is next week, and he needed to check if she needed pressure washing to get rid of the growth which might slow him down. She is the third boat along: blue, with a wooden mast. The other picture shows the extent of the two harbours- all the way back to the town.

I'm looking forward to week 18- May day is always a highlight.

Sunday, 20 April 2014

project 52 weeks 15 and 16

Week 15

I think that week 15 can be summed up with one picture. I returned from Iatefl, with what I thought was a cold. After a couple of days it hit me like a ton of bricks- and I was reliably informed by my  sister-in-law doctor that it was flu. The next few days were spent in bed, and it was only towards the end of week 16 that I started to feel human again.

Week 16


Monday saw me returning to work, although it probably would have been a better idea to stay at home. I tried to keep out of everyone's way, but Monday is my morning only day, so I was able to go back to bed quite quickly. Cairis twisted her knee and needed crutches for a few days, so they had to be taken back to the hospital.
I was delighted to see some of my recent trainees had come in to start teaching.


Yippee. The builder has finally finished our wall.
It will need to dry out for a few days before it can be painted, but it looks a million times better. 
M and Cairis are off at the weekend, so they will have time to repaint it while I am at work. WE don't get any of the bank holidays off :-( The builder has done a good job, although it was difficult to match up the slope on the gatepost.


The weather is unbelievably good this week. Wall to wall sunshine, although the wind takes the edge off it. The college grounds are beginning to look, and smell, very very good. I really love the smell of the mock orange bush under my classroom window. The colours around the island are vibrant, with every shade of green you could imagine.


I stayed behind to prepare my certificates for the students who are leaving tomorrow. This meant that I was stuck in traffic on my way home, as I had miscalculated the time. I had two choices: I could sit and complain, or enjoy the view of the low tide. No prizes for guessing which won. The sea is a beautiful aquamarine at the moment, although it is really far out in the picture.


One a penny, two a penny....
I went to work this morning while the rest of my family stayed at home. I made sure that I had plenty of hot cross buns for the coffee break. I take some in every year- now it is expected.
In the morning , before I left, I found some branches in the garden to turn into a little Easter tree. Maisie spent the day trying to knock the little eggs off :-)
In the afternoon they picked me up and we had afternoon tea in a local hotel- very civilised! The sea this morning was flat calm, so I wasn't surprised that M hadn't gone sailing, as he had planned to do.

In the evening, we decided to have a quiet time at home. 

Cairis was out with some of the people from her new place of work, so we curled up with the cats and our kindles :-)


Cairis decided to buy some new work clothes, and asked for my advice. As I was starting to feel human again, and the town is only ten minutes away, I accompanied her on her potter around the shops. She did very well as there were lots of sales on. While in town, we passed a person dressed up as a Star Wars storm trooper, and regretted not having a camera with us. Imagine our surprise when we went home, to find him policing up and down outside our house. It turn out that he was a friend of the neighbours next door and they were having a party, to which we were invited. It absolutely made Cairis's day to be able to take a photo of the man outside our house, and then to chat with him.

Monday, 7 April 2014

Project 52 week 14

I've been looking forward to this week for ages.


 Waxy Jersey Royals
Jersey Lobster
My in-laws arrived on Sunday, just in time to see me before I left for Harrogate. They came down to work on their boat, which had been overwintered in Jersey. I decided to treat them to a nice meal, as I really wasn't sure what they would be eating when I was away. Neither M nor Cass are any good in the kitchen:-)


 I was just thinking that all my flowers would be dead by the time I returned, but it is nicer to leave some for the visitors.
I spent the morning packing and headed off to the airport. The plane was delayed by a couple of hours, so I cooled my heels with a good book on my kindle. The train from Manchester was easy, as was the one from Leeds, although it stopped at every tiny station en route. Eventually I arrived and took a taxi to the hotel where I was sharing a room with Marisa for 1 night. We soon met up and ended up having a meal in an Indian restaurant with some of the other delegates.


This was SIG( Special Interest Group) day, and I was booked to go to the BEsig (Business English) Pre Conference Event. It was very well done, with only two speakers for the day. In the morning we had Martin Lisboa, who was excellent and in the afternoon Fiona Mee Alvarez from York Associates did an great session for two and a half hours. I sat next to Candy, and renewed my acquaintance with some of the others, and made some new contacts too. In the evening we moved into our house which we were sharing.
The royal hall, where they had the welcoming session, is really splendid inside. It was a great place to catch up with everyone over a drink. 
That is one of the good things about this kind of conference- the networking!  I think more than half of my PLN were there and we spend a wonderful week catching up and making new friendships.

The mayor came to open the conference  and everyone stopped what they were doing to listen to him He told us a bit about the history of the town - he said that he had been a history teacher in the past :-)


In our fridge we found: a bottle of milk, a bottle of champagne and a chocolate gateau ! This was no good, so we skipped the plenary, knowing that it would be recorded, and headed over to Betty's tea-room for breakfast. It was a bit grey and misty, so we were glad to get inside. After breakfast, we wandered down to the conference venue and  separated into groups to go to the sessions which interested us most. It was an enjoyable day, which ended in a local restaurant with loads of people.


Today the weather was a little brighter. There is an amazing tree outside our house, which is covered in blossom.
There were some excellent sessions on today, again. I really enjoyed Andreas Grundvig's talk on impoliteness, or using non-adjacency pairs, among others. In the evening I went to the International quiz with my colleague Martin, who wanted to experience everything, as it was his first time at a conference.  We came middle of the table- so not too embarrassing.


I came away from the sessions with lots to reflect on.

Today nearly all the focus was on the Pecha Kuchas in the evening. They were extremely well done, and only two of the presenters weren't people I was friends with already. 

After the PKs there was an open mike night, which proves yet again how much talent there is amongst our colleagues and peers.  


Roseli and Tamas did a good session on mentoring. This was useful for work, so I went along, and was glad that I had.
Time to say our goodbyes :-( Actually I'm all conferenced-out. I stayed until the end, had a coffee with everyone, and then headed off to the train station, where I found myself explaining how to use twitter to a lovely gentleman sitting next to me. It turned out that it was Andrew Wright- of games and activities fame!
We shared a seat until York, where I changed to the London train.


I flew home on the red-eye, and went straight to bed, having spent last night in the airport. I had been congratulating myself on not catching the cold which was going around at the conference, until I woke up with it. Bleh!!!