SEE part 2- The PEER Cycle
In the previous post, Daniel Downes, Teacher of VI, looked at the rationale for the SEE approach. This follow up post is a description of the PEER cycle which is our method of squeezing every drop out of a sensory experience.
Although the PEER process has been described sequentially here, the real intention is to create a cycle which is kept in motion by the child’s own motivation and by new questions which arise throughout (one topic leads to the next). The long term aim is to provide all children on the teaching caseload with some experience of each of the 22 global areas as identified in the previous post.
Four key stages: Preparation for learning, Experience, Evaluation, and Reinforcement.
Stage one- Preparing to learn
At the start of each term, a suitable theme is selected and a SEE target is set for all children on the regular teaching caseload. As the SEE approach has developed, we have found it useful to have a longer term theme such as ‘transport’ which can then be made up of several different experiences such as transport on snow, on water, in the air, on roads etc.
Unpicking what a child already knows is useful for planning the experience in the next stage and should not be influenced by what we think a child knows, (a four year old blind child recently corrected me telling me that dogs actually have two legs not four, this was somewhat of a surprise given that this child has a guide dog with four legs!) We can explore existing concepts by completing a KWF grid (know, would like to know, found out). For younger children or children with multiple needs, it is useful to ask parents what experience their child has had with the given topic. As mentioned earlier, the experience should not be seen as an add-on to other areas of the expanded curriculum. As such, the other areas of intervention should be intertwined with the topic as far as possible. A child may use computer or tablet skills to research the farm, or may listen and try to identify animal sounds or a tactile learner may be encouraged to match animal textures for example. A parent’s group for younger children provides the ideal opportunity to offer a different theme related sensory activity each week. If the theme is the farm, children may like to explore the smell and texture of hay or materials that resemble different animals.
Services are becoming increasingly accountable and the pressure to demonstrate progress is growing. An important aspect of the preparation stage is to record the baseline which makes it much easier to show progress made during the evaluation stage.
Stage two- Experience
The experience is the most important stage of the cycle as it presents the opportunity to utilise all sensory channels, creating a powerful learning experience which is difficult to imitate within a classroom. This stage is usually based around a visit or experience related to the chosen theme. Examples may include a trip to the farm, a ride on a steam train, a visit to an airport/market/cafe or a tour of the Guide Dog training centre. Although the developmental outcomes should largely be organic, in order to ensure accessibility, it is essential to plan general learning outcomes and activities. For example, if the theme was ‘the farm’ very young children or those with multiple needs may just be required to obtain a new experience using each sense. This could be recorded by parents/carers by answering questions such as, ‘have I heard a new sound today?’ Older children might be expected to take pictures of certain features of the farm to answer questions such as ‘what stops the cows from walking around the farm freely?’ Activities like this can provide direction towards key concepts such as gates and fences without limiting free exploration.
Where possible it is often useful to integrate other areas of the additional curriculum such as using a computer tablet, reinforcing self advocacy/ social skills, or by creating a treasure hunt with clues produced in Braille.
One of the most useful activities has been to encourage children to create a ‘journey stick’ during the experience. The idea is that children are given a stick to attach objects that they come across throughout the day. The children can then use their sticks to recount their journey to their friends. A variation of this is to create an experience bag which is the same idea but the child fills a bag rather than a stick.
Stage three- Evaluation
The evaluation stage refers to follow up work after the experience. This is often an important stage in the cycle as it presents the opportunity for students to make sense of the experience and it also draws out potential areas for future development. One of the main benefits of learning outside of the classroom is that the experience will often create some form of emotional response which would not occur by other means. For example, what do children remember about a farm? The smell! Having experienced the farm environment, it is very unlikely that a child would write about a farm without referencing this.
The evaluation stage may begin during the experience by asking students to discuss objects that they have collected with their peers. During certain visits, such as to the farm, it might not be suitable to allow children to freely collect mementos due to health and safety considerations. An alternative is to provide materials which can be collected to remind them of animals or concepts such as a piece of rubber to represent the tractor ride, a square of fur to represent the rabbits, wool for the sheep etc. Children enjoy having a ‘scavenger’ bag full of mementos and will be motivated to discuss their experience with parents and peers. One of the nicest photographs that we have is of children sat in small groups excitedly showing off and sharing their discoveries with their friends.
If children started to fill in a KWL grid, this is often a good time to reflect on whether they have found answers to their questions and if not, whether anyone in the group has. In order to keep the cycle of learning in motion, the grid can be extended by asking the following question; ‘now we all know lots about the farm, what new questions do we have?’ A deeper level of conceptual understanding should become apparent in the more in-depth questions children may ask.
Stage four- Reinforcement
This stage of the cycle presents an excellent opportunity for involving parents or carers. Following any real experience, utilise and enjoy the opportunity to create an experience book, using materials collected during the visit to add to the pages of the book. Encourage the child to say what they did, the order they did it in as the teacher or teaching assistant writes their words. The child is more likely to be motivated to read it back if this approach is taken.
A useful strategy for younger children is to create a tactile story board using small plastic containers attached to a tray with Velcro. Each box can then be filled with a ‘memory’ from the day, for example, some twigs to represent the forest, some water for the lake etc. The child can then be asked to sequence and retell the key events using the story board as an aid.