“Sam’s starting to hate school. His mum says he feels stupid, and his younger sister is already on to books way ahead of him. He’s got some friends he plays with in the playground, but none in his own class. He seems to avoid the children in his own class....” Sound familiar?
So how do we even start to find out how to help Sam? He seems as bright as a button sometimes, but never in the ‘academic’ subjects. Alarm bells ring, and familiar words like ‘dyslexia’ and ‘ASD’ come to mind. So we dig out our testing kits, and poor Sam is screened and tested for several different difficulties - and Sam learned long ago that tests are stressful. He hates them. They mark him out as ‘different’.
So, we mean well - but somehow our attempts to understand, and ease things for Sam, often don’t seem to make that much difference.
The Special Needs Assessment Profile (SNAP) comes at it from an entirely different angle. The package does offer some direct testing (ten easy-to-use probes) but only if the school wants to use it, to fill any gaps where needed.
Instead, SNAP starts off from the notion that most of the key players - Sam, his mum, his teacher, the teaching assistant - already know an enormous amount about Sam and his learning. More testing isn’t necessarily the way forward: why not just gather up and make sense of what is already known about Sam? With careful gathering and analysis, it usually turns out to be amazing informative, and really does look at the ‘whole child’, so you can see at a glance all the different factors and stumbling blocks that might be getting in Sam’s way.
SNAP does this not by ‘testing’ Sam, but by using questionnaires and guided interview schedules to hear from all those key players. There are questionnaires to be completed by school staff and by family, and a self-esteem questionnaire for Sam’s feeling about himself, his academic self esteem and his social self-esteem; and there’s a guided interview schedule to help draw out the pupil’s voice, Sam’s perceptions about what is important to him.
From school staff, for example:
And from Sam’s academic self-esteem:
From Home, an example that probes a more literacy-related factor:
The guided interview schedule suggests how to draw Sam out in a whole range of ways, for example, anything he wants to share about his or her family life; who is important to him; any special friends, siblings, family members, teachers, or pets; his favourite sports, teams, clubs, lessons, organised groups; and so on. The interview guidance is extensive and flexible, but the outcome need not be extensive – perhaps just a set of short lists which create a snapshot of a pupil’s self-perception of him or herself in the context of the classroom or school - and it is likely that the process will be as important as any recorded outcome, the chance for Sam to feel listened to, and at the centre of the process.
Done like this, assessment isn’t a process of an expert testing someone with a problem. This is a process of drawing together of the existing understandings, a process where the ‘non-experts’ (Sam, his mum and his home network) contribute as much, maybe more, than the ‘experts’ (the school staff and the package authors).
Sam’s voice gets heard, and Sam feels like a central participant in the process, not just a ‘problem’ being probed by others. It can be a game-changer…..
Thanks to Charles Weedon, author of SNAP, for this blog.