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In accommodating a learner with WS your aims are summarised in the diagram below.
If you follow this mantra you won’t go far wrong! However, to do this you need to be very clear, firstly, on what the learner’s interests are so these can be used as motivators. Get as much information as you can from the learner, her family and her previous teacher. Notice what holds her attention in class, the class mates with which she interacts well and the personal news she relates to you. Parents and teachers agree that most learners with WS have special interests, which can be used to facilitate the learning of almost anything. But this is where you notice individuality. Special interests in Irish learners with WS vary from farming to babies, from music to lawnmowers to food! These special interests are your ‘way in’ to the learner’s world. Some of the most effective interventions for learners with WS are based on special interests. Parents and teachers have also identified the following strengths: sociability, memory, musicality and intelligence, the first three of which are usually described as characteristic features of WS.
As you teach and assign activities across the curriculum be cognisant of the learner’s challenges. While you may differentiate very effectively for her in literacy, it is important to remember her writing difficulties or her comprehension difficulties when you’re teaching a Geography lesson or a Drama lesson. Above all, give her a lot of praise for trying, for engaging and for participating. Your praise makes more difference than anything else. When learners with WS were interviewed they were more likely to rate themselves good at a curriculum area where they got regular praise from their teacher (even if they didn’t like the subject!). Learners with WS usually try very hard to please their teacher, so keep them on side!
© Fionnuala Tynan