Lifelong Learning Programme

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Teachers Experiences

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Learning about a pupil as an individual
Belarmina Filipe
lower and higher secondary
Students with learning difficulties
The experience took place in the first and second terms of the school year (2013/2014).
Let me call him Manuel. He is a pupil in my class of citizenship, together with other 29.
He called my attention because, instead of taking part in the discussion about the rules to be followed in the class, he was speaking with a fellow and playing with small balls of paper without having written any notes or even the date and number of the lesson as he was supposed to. I approached him and invited him to open the notebook. I helped him write the notes and I noticed his difficulty in handwriting and in keeping his diary/notebook in proper order. I thought something was wrong with his hearing, since he could not write correctly the sounds and expressions he heard.
I suspected he was kind of an “abandoned” child. He is fat, smiles and laughs at each moment and seems not to understand simple instructional strategies or the language used by teachers.
Talking with the colleague who teaches Portuguese to the class I found out that Manuel was a disruptive pupil and was not used to study or do the homework designed by her. Together we planned some strategies to help the 12 year old boy. She would not stay much in front of the class (Manuel was the last pupil in the row) and she would help him write what he needed to write or advise him on how to do the tasks related with the subject. Meanwhile we were going to speak with the Diretora de Turma to know more about the boy. His left hand had been burnt and he had a horrible handwriting. He didn’t seem to be comfortable in the class, but we both have noticed that he didn’t rush to go out when it rang and most times he was the last pupil to leave the classroom.
In November, in a teacher’s reunion, we were said that Manuel’s parents had built separated families. Manuel misbehaved in various times (not paying attention to the lessons) and five teachers said his outcome was very poor. I volunteered to tutor Manuel and the Diretora de turma promised to speak with his mother and get more information than the one in his school file.
In the beginning of December I met him in the library. I began to speak with him, and suggested we sat apart to know each other better. He agreed. I told a few stories about my family and my school (saying that at his age, I didn’t like studying, I preferred reading books instead) and he began to tell a narrative about a boy who missed his grandmother and his aunt /godmother, people who he had lived with as a child. He didn’t remember much of the earlier years (in which he lived either with his father, or with his mother) but he could tell, in detail, where he was from seven to nine. These years seemed to be the only stabile ones in his life! After this talk I took a resolution. I was going to help him be a better pupil. But I didn’t want to be authoritative. I just offered to be his tutor, a kind of older friend, someone with free time who wished to help him but didn’t know how. He had to tell me how I could help. We shared our views about the importance of “knowing things about the world” and Manuel promised to think about the offer. He would tell me something, in a week. He didn’t say anything, when we met in the class and I nothing asked. He behaved better in the classes and the teacher of Portuguese would discriminate him positively, when assessing his oral participation. One week before Christmas holidays, Manuel remained in the classroom and told me he had spoken with his mother and he was willing to meet me in the library, at least once in the week. To the question, how I could help, he answered “help me study. I have never known how to learn”. OK, I said.
The first work session was the most interesting one. Manuel said he had “new” brothers and “a new sister” who came along with his stepfather and his step mother. In the last two years, two other babies were born, one in each family. He lived at his mother’s in Castelo Branco and in holidays he would visit his father in Sintra.
We spoke a lot and I told him he had experienced many different settings, different from the experiences of his fellows at the same age. I said he might be justly proud of himself (he was not only a survivor, he revealed to be much more mature than his pals), he had only to get self-confidence, ask for help when necessary and never lose his self-respect. We would develop some reading and writing skills, we would study together (I said I didn´t know much about Portuguese grammar) and step by step he would become a good pupil and be able to interact well with his fellows in class. I encouraged him to share his cultural experience and write his story and he seemed to like the idea.
During weeks Manuel developed learning strategies and he skimmed and scanned some texts learning how to answer questions based on some different language materials. In the so-called “apoio” at Portuguese, Manuel didn´t learn much as there were many pupils and individual attention could not be given by the teacher. But my colleague had always “an eye on him” in the classes, helping him, individually, and motivating him to learning. We have to have a traditional seating pattern
but Manuel is no longer the last pupil in the row.
Now he behaves and he sometimes intervenes in the lessons as attested by many teachers. He is no longer the last pupil to leave the classroom and he is seen with other pupils at school. But … he continues not doing homework and he fails to tell me when he doesn’t come . Before Carnival he was seeing a book in the school library when I arrived. I offered him the book and he promised to read it. The book was about geocaching and Manuel and I would invite his class to hide and seek a cache in the school. Manuel didn’t appear to my “tutorial” last week and I haven’t spoken with him since.
My colleague tells me she is angry with Manuel. She told him ” he could only be helped if he wanted to”. Manuel didn’t reply but … he will have to speak with me next week!
The Diretora de Turma doesn’t have “privileged time” with the class. The teacher of Citizenship Education has only about 30/40 minutes to practise learning strategies. Affective support is received by everyone in the school, but no effective help is provided. As the pupil doesn’t have “special needs”
 he is only one in the 30 of the class…
 If there weren’t this project, this report would never be written and … I learnt a lot while writing it.
The strengths of this experience are that Manuel began to eat breakfast everyday (I realized he could not be attentive or quiet in the second or third lesson of the day). Three of the teachers explained why breakfast was important, we spoke with him and his mother and now he is quite an “ordinary” kid who can be found in the breaks playing with other kids. He continues to be a poor pupil but he no longer bullies/is bullied in the classes and seems to be attentive. His handwriting is now clean and legible and he’s willing to know. . He shared the book about geocaching with a cousin (tells the teacher of Portuguese) and he likes/wants to stay at school.
The weaknesses of the experience are (I don’t do house visits) that conditions to do homework are not provided. Manuel spends too much time in front of the television or playing with little sister.
Multidisciplinary experiences are not taken into the classroom.

Comments on this Teachers Experience

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Date: 2014.05.23

Posted by Francis MAKA (Belgium)

Message: - What is a citizenship class?
- It is true that checking hearing is the first thing to do when a pupil seems to face difficulties with sounds.
- The pupil’s initial behaviour is typical for a pupil who “drops out”.
- It is very important to know that the school has its own language and that we have to give the pupils the keys of this language.
- The pupils who drop out often experience a complicated family situation.
- Actually, it is a kind of « sponsorship ».
- Learning to study is a skill that is rarely taught in the schools. Many children just don’t know how to do.
- In this testimony, there are many dialogs, and that must be the basic help before thinking about the “subject”.
- The pupils experiencing difficulties are very often survivals who face lack of self-confidence and self-esteem.
- It is true that the help brought rarely crosses the house door. And that sometimes gives the feeling that we don’t help the child completely… Unfortunately, we don’t have the control on all factors.

Date: 2014.05.21

Posted by Alcino Silva (Portugal)

Message: My first comment to the description of this experience has to do with the attitude of the teachers who assessed the attitudes of the student as having an aggressive behavior without first trying to understand his behavior.
In addition to the student’s problems, the issues in the family environment, he was being bullied by his peers.
Although the information concerning his difficulties was not initially provided, the teachers should not have neglected their responsibilities.
The resistance of other teachers to this situation is a very serious situation for a teacher.
The duty of the whole school community is to provide a closer look, especially the teachers in their classrooms, any and all other signs of violence, seeking to neutralize the perpetrators and assist the victims.
Whenever an abnormal fact raises some suspicion, some preventive initiatives should be taken: increase supervision at break time; avoid underestimation in class, nicknames, or rejection of students for any reason whatsoever. There can also be discussions on the various forms of violence, mutual respect and affection focusing on human relationships.
But if teachers are not able to understand that a student may be being bullied by the peers, he can hardly act on the prevention and resolution of this kind of aggression, which is harmful to human health.
The happy part of this story has to do with problem resolution achieved by the working team set up. The adoption of a common strategy, the cooperation of the director and especially the positive involvement of classmates, was crucial to success.
The teacher, more than any other, must be prepared to receive different students arriving society. In general, we have students, especially in the public school, with family problems that are scary, these range from prostitution; drug use and traffic; parents who are in prison; physical and psychological problems; to factors such as prejudice and it is up to him the great responsibility to try to understand these problems and help solve them.

20 December 2014

Final Partners’ meeting

The fourth partners’ meeting took place in Florence (IT) on 15 December 2014. The meeting had the objective to check the activities carried out since the third meeting of the project and share and assess the in progress results. A special focus has been dedicated to the presentation of the strategies to solve the case scenarios.