Special Educational Needs (SEN)
The Revd Juliet Donnelly
This resource provides some tips and hints for taking assemblies in mixed-age and mixed-ability settings.
SEN is a huge area and can include such diverse students as those who are autistic, have Down's syndrome, are blind, dyspraxic, dyslexic, ADHD, gifted and talented, diabetic, etc.. In reality, all children have strengths and weaknesses, so we can see SEN students as an enrichment, part of a continuum on which we all sit somewhere.
The first and most important starting point when taking assemblies is to find out about the children you are communicating with. If you can, organize a meeting with the SEN co-ordinator to discuss the school's SEN policy and children.
Do ask for help from an experienced teacher to settle the students if you have a particularly noisy or challenging group. For any student, and perhaps especially SEN students, it's good to create an atmosphere where they are ready to listen and able to be involved.
Students with SEN often find it hard to listen, so intersperse your talk with pupil action – either volunteers playing a game or activity or everyone making a sound effect to illustrate a story (see Using games in assemblies for hints).
If possible, support your assembly with visuals. Many SEN pupils can be helped by a picture to facilitate their understanding. Whenever possible, make obvious connections between visual cues and what is being said.
Assemblies can be a 'switch-off' time for many pupils, especially for SEN students who may find a big group and lots of listening hard to access. I have found it helpful to create a different perspective by choosing a different location in the room. One method is to divide the assembly group into two halves – I do this by explaining that I will walk to the back of the hall and as I do so the children will need to shuffle out of my way. Doing this creates a path for me to walk along. It is an excellent way of connecting better with the students – it improves eye contact with those at the back and can be a creative storytelling space or area for an activity to take place. This works only when pupils are seated on the floor and there is adequate room.
Instructions can be very confusing for SEN students, so give instructions one at a time and in clear sequential order.
Be aware that some SEN children will take everything you say literally (including sarcasm and metaphor). Avoid sarcasm and explain humour, if it is used; these are complex and can be hard to understand.
To help SEN students to listen and concentrate, maintain eye contact and make your voice interesting. Use the 'lighthouse technique' of sweeping the room with your eyes so that everyone feels involved. Don’t be tempted to read from notes.
Repeat and revise key information for those who find it difficult to listen, remember or understand.
Including SEN students in assemblies
Be fair when choosing students to volunteer – don't be afraid to pick an SEN pupil – but consider the task they are required to do and whether it is appropriate. It might be a good idea to invite a friend or teaching assistant to help; or, with the teacher's advice and help, give an SEN student prior warning of the task and what it will involve so that he or she can be helped to prepare.
Invite contributions and value them. When answers demonstrate misunderstanding be encouraging and move on to avoid making students feel awkward.