Supporting Diverse Learners
Using the metaphor of a road trip between Los Angeles and San Francisco, James Le Marquand shares his knowledge and understanding of three touchstones of special education: attitude, relationships, and engagement; peppered with stories of the students he has met along the way.
Le Marquand is the Principal of Arohanui School and Specialist Outreach Centre. He is committed to helping all students develop to their full potential. He is passionate about using the arts - dance, drama, music and visual arts as a basis for educational learning. Le Marquand believes strongly in the need for an understanding, inclusive and responsive community
This talk was a part of Growing from Strong Foundations in Auckland on 5, June, 2018
- New Zealand Curriculum
- Te Marautanga o Aotearoa
- Te Marautanga o Aotearoa (English translation, pdf, 0.39MB)
- Te Whāriki (pdf, 4.4MB)
Best Evidence Syntheses
- School Leadership and Student Outcomes Best Evidence Synthesis: Chapter Seven (pdf, 0.7mb)
- Iterative Best Evidence Synthesis (BES) Hei Kete Raukura Resources
Developing Mathematical Inquiry Communities
- School leadership for improvement in primary mathematics education: Russell School best evidence in action implementation exemplar
- Improvement in Mathematics Education: Evidence in Action Hangaia te Urupounamu Pāngarau Mō Tātou
- Developing Mathematical Inquiry Communities
Hei Oranga Tika: Wellbeing Matters
- Hei Oranga Tika: Wellbeing Matters Emerging evidence of the impact of the Christchurch earthquakes on young children
Reading Together Te Pānui Ngātahi
- Reading Together Te Pānui Ngātahi: Implementation for impact and enduring, reciprocal high trust relationships between families, whānau and schools
- Poutama Pounamu
- Evaluation of Te Kotahitanga Phase 5 (2010-2012)
- Disciplined innovation for equity and excellence in education: Learning from Māori and Pasifika change expertise
- 'Walking the talk' matters in the use of evidence for transformative education (pdf, 0.7mb)
Writers in Schools
As you watch the presentations, think about these questions:
- What is something that has challenged or confirmed your thinking about the curricula?
- What can I do as a result?
James Le Marquand: Thank you for having me here. First of all, just looking at the slide supportive diverse learners you will see that there are a lot of question marks in there. And the question mark is really do we do that and my answer to that is that I don’t think we do it very well in this country. And so, part of what I am going to do is perhaps in my presentation is nothing to do with what Lynda talked about – it is going to be a little bit more political than that.
Lynda talked about being brave and the government being brave. I want to say whoever has arranged this is also brave having me speak, so… So, like a good teacher I am going to share my learning intentions with you before we start. So first of all, most of you will be sucking eggs and that is really useful because it is just affirming what I think you know. I will be poking a wee hole in those eggs so make sure that you taste some of the yolk. I will be sharing with you a vision of a journey and this in itself is a journey because I don’t really know a lot of what I am going to say.
And in this journey, I use analogy and I use metaphor and analogy a lot. The analogy of a trip from LA to San Francisco representing our curriculum and the lovely wonderful Californian coast. I am going to share with you some knowledge and understanding around three touchstones of special education – or learning support as it is now – although I find saying learning support very difficult, it is only because it has been captured by people.
And I do apologise in advance for any offence that I may cause as I proceed. And on that note… I will be outing some elephants in the room. I was speaking to Rob just before and talking about the elephants in the room and he suggested that I just pull out the trunk because there is quite a lot of elephant in the room. So, we will be only being pulling out a little bit of that elephant… so onwards.
The video shows a drawing of people looking through nine box shaped windows at an elephant.
So, the elephant. To me this is a really articulate visual if you like of special education and we have boxed our resources up. So, for example, in the top right-hand corner, that could be where I live – near the butt end of the elephant. The place where I stand strong for my community and my people and the people I represent, yet we are talking about a community of people here. Yet, we have boxed our people, we have boxed them in terms of reference criteria and needs and for me, this is some of the things we have to stop doing and need to change if we are going to have an actually better and more effective community and working in this field.
So next to that, that could be deaf education because obviously they have an interpreter standing next to them there.
The video shows the same image as before but now there are vertical gaps between the windows, with silhouettes of children falling between the gaps.
The sad thing is that our system actually at present looks a bit more like this. We have students freefalling between the silos of support and that has happened for the last 30 years and we have done very little about it and to me it is bordering on a crime.
Very recently I was at a court hearing for a 40-year old man who used to be a part time caretaker at our school. He is a man with an intellectual disability and autism, a man who has been living with the IHC who decided to make it alone and consequently ended up living in a band rotunda in Henderson, homeless. He then committed a crime that he didn’t quite understand and failed many bail conditions and was facing a 2 ½ year prison sentence. I worked very hard to keep that man from being imprisoned.
This is what we are doing. They freefall through our system and ongoing through our system as they leave school. This we have to stop. Why is this happening? This is the elephant or the trunk of it. Our system has perpetuated the myth of consultative authority and I have put a small subliminal message in there, I don’t know if you can see it.
So, what we actually have done is that we believe somehow, some magical consultant falls from the sky and provides for us some kind of fix-it remedy in terms of an assessment or a programme or something and then they disappear again and that is going to fix our kids with diverse needs. Our kids first of all do not need fixing, they are not broken. Our kids need people with them along on the journey. They don’t need consultants. This we have to change.
We have to change the establishment of a medical type model of intervention, an intervention model that looks at triage, action and withdraw. This is a learning journey and we need to be on it. The system we have at the moment is disjointed and I look at just the paper the other day of the University of Auckland is cutting down its capacity for delivering training for teachers. We are losing our hold on that area, we are losing our hold on our council, we have lost our hold on the Ministry and we are losing teaching. It is disproportionate.
You take that box where I was standing in the corner at the end of the elephant and the kid falling… the other side is the child that missed out on ORS. Now let me tell you that if you have applied for a child with ORS, they will have significant needs and those needs aren’t going to disappear, they are going to be with that child for the rest of their life. These are the kids that we need to be supporting. And it is dysfunctional. So that is the elephant. I have dissed it enough and we move on.
So, something a little bit more pleasant – a trip to the United States. Who has been on this trip? Who has done this trip? Who has done the Californian coast? Right, you will know some of this analogy. So, effectively let’s think the last nine years of education and our curriculum as the road from Los Angeles to San Francisco. Effectively what National Standards did have narrowed our focus and that we have measured quite a lot of success on the speed that we are travelling to get to San Francisco and the places that we are stopping along the way. What we have lost in this time – because in 2007 when it was first rolled out I literally had tears in my eyes because the Curriculum legitimised the place of my school and our curriculum and our work. And I feel a bit robbed over the last 9 years I might say.
So, we need to enhance this, we need to think that there are other routes that we can be taking. You can take through Yosemite National Park for example or you can go the coast road. Traditionally we think of this travel and school as an analogy of a bus, a Greyhound bus.
The video shows an image of a bus on top of a map of the route from LA to San Francisco.
And you fit your kids into this bus and there are all sorts of kids, a big range of kids. And if you think about them, you get the kids that sit in the front of the bus and they are generally going to be those ones that are really interested in looking out the windows, asking the bus driver questions, quite fascinated about the journey that they are taking.
And then you get the other group that sit in the middle – these kids some of them fall asleep on the way and then they wake up when there are points of interest and things that they want to engage in. And then at the back you have got that bunch – generally boys – urinating into drink bottles and mooning people going past.
You know who they are and some of you are in this room today. Most of them however do become Engineers.
The thing is that we understand that analogy, we understand those kids and we have got the road map. We know where we are taking them – we are taking them to San Francisco. We also have this other group of kids that we know about; these kids are those kids who have some pretty unique and special ways of thinking and they are – pardon the pun – accelerated learners and so they need a little bit of Ferrari.
The video now includes a Ferrari on the previous image.
So somewhere along the way they are going to jump off that bus, hop in their Ferrari and go out to the Monterey aquarium because that is really worth a visit, I can tell you that.
The video shows a red line on the map as a detour on the journey between LA and San Francisco.
As long as we are back in time for lunch at the meeting place, they can carry on the road to San Francisco. We understand that, we understand that map which is part of the reason that I get a little bit upset when we lump gifted and talented with my group of students because they have different maps.
Then we have this other group of kids – these are the kids that missed the bus. These are the kids who we need to be providing some alternative transport for and that transport is going to be a little bit slower and that transport is going to take a slightly deviant route.
The video now includes a Volkswagen Kombi van on the previous image.
But we know that and we understand those kids because we have the map and we know where we are trying to take them. So, we work really hard to get them out of Los Angeles and they slowly wind their way up to Bakersfield – yes! We are doing our job.
The video now includes a picture of a motorbike on the previous image.
And then there is this kid – he turns up and he can be a pain in the arse. Because he turns up on his Ninja 900 and he is the guy that turns up at 5 years old and he had already electrocuted himself 15 times. He has set fire to his parent’s garage and his father’s car, he has set fire to the local gas main and appeared in the paper and he turns up at your school. The first day he gets the soap from the toilet and he puts the soap on his feet and plays soap soccer in the classroom, falls over and smashes his teeth. I was that boy.
This is the boy that you end up chasing around, going backwards and forwards as he winds his way up the curriculum until eventually he either settles himself down and realises that his motorbike is going to kill him if he carries on it and gets on the bus, or finds his own way to San Francisco. But we know those kids and we understand those kids, because we have the map.
The video now includes a picture of a monster truck on the previous image.
Then this kid turns up. Billy is the kid that ends up on the roof. Billy is the kid that doesn’t come into the classroom. Billy is that kid that could have all sorts of diagnoses – you name it. IGA, whatever it is. That is a joke by the way – that is actually a grocery store. So, Billy turns up and he is a damn handful. We don’t know where he is going, we don’t know what to do, we have had the consultant come in after 90 days waiting list and they have come in and they said have you tried a sticker chart?
Yeah, we tried but he won’t come off the roof. And he disappears, off through the desert. He is going nowhere near San Francisco and we worked really, really, really hard but eventually we can get him to Las Vegas. We have saved his life because we stopped him going into the Grand Canyon where some of those kids have gone.
The video now includes a picture of roller skates on the previous image.
And then just when you think you have seen it all, Susan turns up. Susan turns up with a brand-new pair of roller skates and you don’t even have a key. I always thought that song was odd and I have just made sense of it. She turns up in a pair of roller skates and she heads straight for the Magical Kingdom. She is not going out of there no matter how hard you drag her, where you push here – she is staying in Disneyland. And let me tell you – Disneyland is a fantastic place to learn. I have been there 28 years… Mickey, Minnie, Donald … they have been there a while too. It is a fantastic place to be and the whole thing is and that we need to understand is that WE – in my school – we have maps for all these places.
We have the technology, we have the things but what you don’t have in the mainstream is the information, the technology and the infrastructure to support these kids doing what they need to do. What we need and what we should be focussing on and asking for is the width around the bottom end of our curriculum. Our kids, a lot of our kids, are not going to San Francisco. No matter how hard you try and I am not saying that we limit our expectations on their learning, but what we need to do is understand where their learning is and most of all, how they are learning.
And to do that you need the width of understanding at that level of curriculum. You need the maps for Disneyland and while you are at it, let’s get the map for Universal Studios because Susan’s brother doesn’t like Disneyland but he is quite into Universal Studios. And Knotsberry Farm while we are at it – lets get better and more informed maps of the desert so we can actually find the roadways within. Give ourselves decent navigation systems and most of all, have a system that provides navigators in the school, people with training, development, understanding and skills to help this navigation happen within.
First port of call I would say is bring on the fully funded SENCO model into schools.
So, what can you do? This is something that a lot of you do well. What do we have here?
The video shows a number of variations on the Mona Lisa painting.
That’s a bunch of moaners. You do do that well but let me tell you that moaning is a useless exercise, moaning gets you absolutely nowhere. You can moan until you are blue or green – but nothing happens systemically. I was at a hui last year – NZEI middle management hui – and one of the things that came out from that was hope. Being hopeful. Hopeful and being hopeful is just an optimistic form of moaning. It gets you nowhere.
Hopefulness is hopeless and moaning is helpless – we actually need to do something. So, in a practical and pragmatic sense, what are some of the things that we can do? Just within your own schools for a start. The first thing, the first touchstone is attitude. Attitude is the doorway to everything for our kids and I have heard it spoken by the other speakers around that this morning. Attitude is everything. Now part of what I have got here is … I do a lecture at the Auckland University and it goes on for a long time, so I have shortened it and I have shortened it by just creating some T-shirts. So, instead of the whole piffle which most of you know because you are going to suck eggs around it, I have shorted it to some stylised T-shirts that are for sale at the back of the room after this.
So, the first T-shirt you could wear in regards to attitude is this one.
The video shows a t-shirt with the slogan “don’t be a can’t.”
Our kids face a lot of can’ts. Particularly in the Ministry. You know those people – that is not one of ours. That’s not one of ours, no we can’t do that, that’s not one of ours. That has got to change. You can’t be a can’t. If you didn’t know that one of these stones was going to be relationship then you should quit your job and leave now because fundamentally you all know that this is the most significant part of your job – it is all about relationships. Relationships with whanau, relationships with the child of course at the centre of that, relationships with each other and relationships with leadership and colleagues, teacher aide staff – who should be paid more and properly supported by the way with decent training and development and infrastructure and skills. We need to call for it, it is not just going to happen.
The video shows a t-shirt with the word “aroha” in the shape of a heart.
So, relationships, here is the T-shirt. It is all about aroha. That is what it is all about and let me tell you the reason that we have succeeded for the last 30 years in special education or since tomorrow schools is because of you and your aroha. Because I can guarantee that every single person in this room has worked way outside of their job description to do something for families and children; way outside. And it is that level of commitment and passion that we have in New Zealand that has enabled us to survive in terms of the lack of resources and focus that we have got.
A real example of that, I was at the government hui there in Christchurch a couple of weeks ago and it was really good because they took the politics out of it and we only had our name tags and not where we were from or anything and we were in little groups and people were talking. There was a very common element in those discussion groups and that was where people were passionate and were doing some really cool things. They had all worked outside of the system, they had all been disobedient as Welby Ings says. They had actually put two fingers up to the status quo and said, well actually – we don’t care, we are going to do this.
And it works and that is what we need in our system; to recognise all those things that we are doing outside those boxes to make things work for our kids. Aroha.
And the last thing – this is the word that I think actually should knock inclusion on the head because I think inclusion is not a good word. Inclusion, by political definition, is a non-word – what does it mean? Does it mean putting the kid on the Greyhound bus? To me, inclusion fundamentally means engagement. How are we engaging our learners in learning? That should surely be the fundamental aspect of our work.
The video shows a t-shirt with the slogan “how do you learn?”
So, I have got two T-shirts for this one. The first T-shirt would be ‘how do you learn?’ that is a fundamental question. A lot of the kids that we work with are not going to give you an answer; that is for us to work out. Us to navigate, us to get the tools to find those things out. How do you learn is a fundamental question because how a child learns surely then dictates how we teach? And we need to teach differently because people are different, that is what diverse is all about.
The video shows another t-shirt with the slogan “get off your arts!”
And there is another T-shirt. Get off your Arts! Yes, you need to get off your Arts because the arts is already an existing pedagogical network of technology that exist in our system. The wonderful, wonderful thing about the arts is that … particularly for kids that we work with, with ORS is that they provide the ability for students to engage in their own narrative and we heard some talking this morning about that. Narrative is so important – it is the fundamental thing that gives you the understanding of who you are and the ability to have your story, share your story and listen and hear others. And our kids struggle with that and developmentally they have missed out on that. And we need to engage those students in activities that bring that voice, that narrative out.
I was doing some music the other day with students, I use a loop machine. And you can lay down some pretty funky loops and the kids start getting into it and this one kid who hardly speaks at all just yelled out ‘meat pie’ into a microphone. So that was looping. The cool thing about that was that we all joined in with the meat pie and we did this meat pie song which only consisted of meat pie. But that was his narrative – his word, his song, he owned it and he was there. Get off your Arts.
So, what do we need? We need a system that is built in, not bolted on and we have got a bolted-on system at the moment. This is what happens when you bolt stuff on.
The video shows a photograph of a ramp connecting mid-way up a staircase, so that it is impractical for use.
You can imagine the conversation – I have got this kid at my school and he can’t even get up the first four steps. I’ll fix that. And just to show you … that could be photoshopped, it’s a pretty good job – that is probably taken in Chechnya or somewhere… or Christchurch.
The video shows a photograph of a disability toilet with stairs leading to it.
But just to show you that this is real, I took that photo last year. It is outside Rutherford Primary and it was a toilet facility provided for some of my kids in wheelchairs. So, if anybody wants a disability toilet unused…
So, I just want to leave you with this. We know that learning is a journey and we need to be on that journey and that journey is hellishly fun. But … sometimes on that journey, even when you have got the maps and the GPS’s it is the things that you don’t see that is most important.
The video shows a photograph from a safari trip, with people look out across a grassy plain and not seeing the Lion sitting behind them.
Kia Ora, thank you.
More from this series
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