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9. Report on theme 2: Children with multiple disability and visual impairment (MDVI)
By Mrs Rita Kirkwood
(Information provided by the facilitator Mike McLinden)
Where are we now? A personal perspective on educational provision in Scotland for children and young people with multiple disability and visual impairment
by Marianna Buultjens.
This paper reviews current provision in Scotland, where the majority of children with MDVI are in schools for children with complex learning difficulties. There is a developing awareness of the importance of vision in the learning process for these children. Support is sometimes provided by the peripatetic service for the VI, but this is not a consistent service across the country. The paper explores possible contributory factors to this inequitable situation and shows that this area of education has a high profile. The paper emphasises the importance of timely intervention and recognises that unsatisfactory situations can lead to innovative and imaginative solutions to a problem. Use of the World Wide Web in developing and sharing materials for staff working with children and young people with MDVI, across Europe is one suggestion. Developments in the curriculum for young people with MDVI post-16 are also described. While recognising constraints, the paper presents an optimistic view of the willingness and enthusiasm of professionals to share and develop expertise in this area of education for the visually impaired. A very good introduction to the workshop.
Training specialist teachers of children with multiple disabilities and a visual impairment; a review of current issues
by Mike McLinden
The paper gives a good overview of the current issues facing teacher training for VI in England and Wales. The varied nature of the disabilities that children with MDVI have, the growing population of children in this category and the anomalous regulations governing mandatory training of teachers of the Vi are described. The development of teacher competencies are explained and the need for changes in training requirements accepted, although the exact nature of what is required is still undecided.
Four papers were included that covered various aspects of this debate. These were;
The need for special schools by Laura Pease
Integration or inclusion by Robert Orr
Equality of opportunityby Helen Willdridge
Inclusion from the Centre for Studies on Inclusive Education (CSIE)
Development of learning outcomes
by Mike McLinden
This paper and appendices is a useful description of how learning outcomes can be identified and developed for a course of learning.
The group met together four times over two days, for a total of 8.5 hours. The introductory plenary sessions had recapped on the first workshop held in 1997 and introduced the working methods to be used in the workshops. All participants had read the selected literature prior to attending the workshop.
The aims of the workshop were agreed as:
Personal - to share information about our own situations
Product - to move on in our thinking
Process - to all be involved in sharing and learning how to learn together
Practical - to develop as reflective practitioners and identify potential and need for change.
The group participants were from eight European countries. There was an increase in awareness of provision for children with MDVI. There is a growing population of children with MDVI across Europe, and there has been progress in all countries in the last five years in both the recognition of the need of this group of children and young people to be included in the education system.
The workshop sessions covered the following areas:
The personal learning of participants included:
Participants identified the importance of the internet and e-mail for keeping in touch and sharing information and teaching or training materials. They would like to see greater co-operation between universities and more links with other institutions, both within countries and across Europe. A follow-up workshop, focusing on training for teachers of MDVI, was requested at a future date and all participants stated the intention of continuing to work to raise the awareness of MDVI issues in their own countries. Mike agreed to organise and co-ordinate an e-mail network and to look into ways in which materials could be produced in other languages.
Participants enjoyed the group work and the new ways of working. They appreciated the importance of using one language, English, and found the challenges led to new thinking. They felt comfortable joining in discussions and intend to use some of the methods in their own work.
All discussion was in English, except when a little help was given by colleagues to each other, in translating difficult phrases or terminology. Care was taken at all times to ensure all participants understood the discussion and had the opportunity to contribute. Strategies for feedback and the content of feedback to the plenary sessions were discussed and agreed by all participants.
The role of the chairperson was to manage the process and that of the facilitator to control the content. The secretary recorded the process and outcomes and summarised to the group and the workshop plenary.
The key tasks of the group were to focus on knowledge creation by in-depth discussion, sharing of information and exploring ideas. The chairperson, facilitator and secretary met prior to each session to review progress and plan the following session. It was found to be more successful to do this than to be too prescriptive about the programme from the start, although a broad outline had been agreed by the group. The aims for each session were agreed with the group at the start of each session and strategies to be used were explained. Timings were agreed and discussion was carefully timed by the chairperson to ensure all items on the agenda were covered. The secretary only took part in discussions when invited by the chairperson.
The working strategies employed included:
This was a good way for each member of the group to contribute on a personal level and for all to learn more about the situation in participant countries. It also started the process of establishing the level of commonality across Europe, while identifying significant differences between countries, often related to geography, history, resources and politics.
This method was used on several occasions and was useful in helping draw conclusions and identify particular difficulties. An example is that it was agreed that the problem is with the professionals, not the child and that it is important for trainers to emphasise this to teachers.
The literature provided was summarised by the facilitator. It was helpful in focusing the group on the aims of the workshop theme. It was also helpful that participants had the opportunity to read the literature prior to the workshop.
This was a useful way of establishing the common cause between the participants, in identifying the work to be done with members at all levels of society, including some of the people who work with children. It was also helpful in gathering ideas and prioritising issues. The limited time allocated and brisk pace maintained contributed to the success of this method.
The demonstration of the process and the clearly defined parameters of the interviews made this a useful exercise in gaining a great deal of factual information about the participant countries. All members were able to participate and strict timekeeping ensured that the schedule was achieved. Each member was asked to summarise their feedback into five points, which was a good way to focus the discussion.
The methods used for paired work included interviews and challenges using such techniques as continually asking the question 'why?'. The method was successful in getting a lot of information and enabling best use of the time available. Participants practised the methods and also shared their findings and observations. It enabled people to overcome their shyness at speaking in a different language and in speaking in front of the whole group.
In one session the group worked in pairs, to suggest three questions that would need to be asked to increase a teacher's knowledge of a child and therefore help identify their needs. The facilitator checked out the understanding of each member of the group. This was important, to ensure maximum benefit to each participant and maximum contribution to the group.
This was extremely valuable way of focusing the attention of the group on the children. It gave everyone the opportunity to contribute from their professional perspective, as trainers of teachers. The video was used sparingly during the session, but an opportunity was given for members of the group to watch the whole video during their break. Some important conclusions were reached, such as that observations are not yet knowledge. They need to be checked out and backed up by facts. It was agreed that the task for the teacher is to find out the answers.
During the first session it became apparent that there was a significant difference of opinion about the education of children with MDVI. It was decided to face this conflict by using this method. It was made non-threatening by emphasising that the volunteers were taking a stand for the sake of the discussion. However, this method can best be used when there has been successful team building in the group and the members are comfortable with each other.
This method was used in an interview situation, in order to illustrate ways in which teacher trainers could work towards raising the profile of MDVI in their own countries. This helped to maintain the positive focus of the discussion.
The aims of this session were:
Participants completed the following tasks:
'When training teachers of children with MDVI, the 3 most important aspects you stress are':
'Draw a sketch map of your country, identify where you live, where you work and what your job is':
The answers were then shared by each participant with the group.
There are problems across Europe, one is the diagnosis of a VI in addition to other disabilities
There needs to be a flexible and imaginative approach to the curriculum
Importance of personal and social education
It is important not to make assumptions about children's abilities, or under estimate their cognitive ability
Children make progress in very small steps
Give children time to communicate - they all can if facilitated
Each child is different and needs an individual approach
Importance of working in partnership with parents and families
Need for hands-on experience of working with children with MDVI
Teachers need to learn more about a range of disabilities and to gather good ideas from other areas of SEN.
The reader for the workshop was summarised by the facilitator, in order to identify key aspects, which were:
It was established early in the discussion that there was a need to clarify the meaning of MDVI, as the term has different meanings to different people. The focus of the group was on working towards an agreed definition of MDVI by a range of activities and discussions.
Initially the group used brainstorming to gather the views they have experienced from teacher trainers and from members of society. These are summarised as follows:
Teacher Trainers' views: These are largely positive and child centred. They included working with the whole family, a need to understand individual needs and to provide a stimulating and happy environment, using a multidisciplinary team approach. There was recognition of the fatalism felt by many families in this situation.
Society's views: These are very varied, but are generally negative. There is a questioning of the value of the children's lives and the belief that they lack a useful future. The team recognised the fear in society and the lack of understanding of the motivation of staff, or that these children have the ability to learn and so need more than just good care. Also the question of cost and use of resources is often raised.
This session involved the chairperson being interviewed by the facilitator, in order to explore the situation in the chair's country in more detail. Areas covered included:
A great deal of information was obtained in this way, which was not threatening to other members of the group, who observed the session. The group then divided into pairs and conducted paired interviews along the same lines. Individual members then gave verbal feedback on what they had learnt from their partner. All these sessions were carefully timed.
The feedback demonstrated the variation in provision in the countries represented in the group. The variable definition of MDVI makes quantitative analysis of the feedback impossible, but it is clear that a significant proportion of children with VI are considered to have MDVI, for example 60% in Austria, 35% in the UK. Some countries do not have data about this population. In some countries children with MDVI are not placed in schools, but are in social institutions or stay at home. There is an increasing emphasis on social integration, with some countries being further ahead in implementing this than others. There is also recognition of the desirability of providing parents with options. The need for early intervention was also recognised. The proportion of children with MDVI in designated VI special schools is growing and there is an increasing pattern of inclusion of children with VI into mainstream schools.
The aim of this session was to explore approaches to creating new knowledge about children and to define their difficulties. The focus was on a video of young children with MDVI, interacting with an adult in an assessment situation. The video was used to stimulate discussion. The group watched selected parts of the video, discussed their observations and considered key questions. The discussion was organised into three sections, following video clips of:
The questions explored were:
It was possible to make observations about a child from each of the clips, but it was agreed that any observations would need to be checked out for fact. A number of areas should be included in any assessment in order to increase knowledge of the child. These included:
It was agreed that the job of the teacher is to find out the answers. Therefore the role of trainers is to prepare them for this. The discussion ended with a useful pooling of information about the meaning of MDVI and the difference between MDVI and VI.
The morning ended with a recap by the secretary of the morning's discussions. There was an opportunity for members of the group to suggest areas they would like to explore in the second session.
This was an introduction to the second session of the day, which was to focus was on 'Making a difference'. The session concentrated on the educational perspective, but agreed it was necessary to understand this in the context of:
The group identified the following aims of the session:
A case study of a thirteen-year-old boy was used to stimulate discussion about the use of terminology in defining children with complex needs and VI and to identify the difference made by interventions. Members of the group then offered their own examples of case studies for discussion. The discussion focused on three areas:
The questions each member was asked to consider were:
It was agreed that the problem is with the professionals, not the child. All children can make progress, including those with deteriorating conditions. Sometimes the progress made by these children will be in working to retain skills and develop new strategies for coping with their changing condition. The role of adults working with these children is to encourage them to continue to be enthusiastic and motivated to learn. The importance of early intervention and of working with families was stressed. Overall it was agreed that it is crucial for teachers to be in command of the facts. This was illustrated by a report of a child assumed to be MDVI, but who now is learning braille and functioning at an age appropriate level. This was due to the positive attitude of the teacher.
There is provision for children with MDVI in all the countries represented, although there is considerable variation in practice in different countries. This practice is not always totally driven by the economic situation, but is influenced by the prevailing current view of the educational establishment. The views of the group illustrated this range of approach and stimulated a thought provoking discussion. Initially, not all members were in agreement that schools are the best place for children to learn in. Two volunteers took polarised positions on suitable educational provision for children with MDVI. The members of the group could pass supporting statements to either participant, but could not speak or intervene. Each person moved to stand behind the person whose position they supported.
Position 1: Schools are the right place for children with MDVI to learn in
Position 2: Care and health centres offer the best opportunities for children with MDVI.
The conversation was followed by a group discussion, in which members shared their views on having common competencies for teachers. This section was a pivotal session in the workshop, during which participants shared national perspectives relating to teacher training and increased their understanding of the various approaches currently employed.
The whole group concluded that schools offer the best opportunities for learning for children with MDVI. They also agreed that teachers must be involved in the education of all children, whatever the institution is called. Each child needs access to a relevant curriculum and therefore teacher trainers are involved.
Circumstances regarding teacher training in each country are so varied that the group felt there was insufficient time to draw thoughtful conclusions about teacher competencies. Not all the countries have written competencies for teachers of the VI, although there may be generic competencies covering all special educational needs.
Similarly, courses for training teachers of the VI vary greatly from country to country. In some countries training for VI takes place during initial teacher training. In others it is an additional post-qualifying course, either as a VI specialist course only or as part of a more general special educational needs course.
It was agreed that the MDVI content of courses generally is too limited and that there needs to be a greater emphasis on this element in all courses.
However, if the MDVI and VI elements of teacher training become separated, the professional flexibility of teachers would be limited. It is clear that the competencies needed to teach children with VI are different to those needed to teach children with MDVI, but both need to be identified and included in courses for teachers.
The main objective for the outcome of this theme of the workshop was identified as raising the profile of MDVI across Europe.
The challenge the group faced was to identify what each member could do to raise the profile of MDVI in training courses for teachers of the VI in their own countries. A session between two participants asking the 'why?' approach led to all members of the group agreeing with the proposal to raise the profile of MDVI in their own countries. Paired discussions for just five minutes gave people the opportunity to identify ways in which they could face the challenge. This was followed by a role-play interview of the chair by the facilitator, which provided ideas on how to raise the profile of MDVI.
A brainstorm concluded the session, during which each person contributed to a list of action points. This was a good way for each member of the group to contribute on a personal level and for all to learn more about the situation in participant countries. It also started the process of establishing the level of commonality across Europe, while identifying significant differences between countries, often related to geography, history, resources and politics.
Practical suggestions of ways to raise the profile of MDVI included setting up a network for MDVI education across Europe, by e-mail and setting up a website on the internet.
New learning that occurred can be summarised as:
The group agreed the following definition of MDVI as:
Multiple disabilities, including visual impairment, which require a specialised approach, specialised equipment, an individually tailored curriculum and a uniquely individual approach.
The group agreed to adopt a pro-active approach in their own work to raise the profile of MDVI.
The workshop was successful in overcoming the difficulties inherent in bringing together people from eight different countries and producing a positive outcome. This was achieved by:
The profile of MDVI in teacher training courses needs to be raised. The element in courses for teachers of the VI dedicated to MDVI is currently insufficient, considering this is a growing population whose needs are not being as well met generally as those of children with VI. Ways to achieve a greater level of expertise include increasing the content in initial teacher training courses, specialist teacher courses and in-service training for all staff working with children with MDVI. Attitudes of the general public and awareness of the potential of children with MDVI also need to be influenced. The group suggested some practical ways of achieving these aims, including having a further similar workshop, dedicated to MDVI issues.
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